Cardinals 3, Braves 1

Monday, March 12th 2007, 3:00 pm

By: News On 6

JUPITER, Fla. (AP) _ Braden Looper's move from setup man to the St. Louis Cardinals' rotation appears to be succeeding.

Looper allowed 4-hits in 4 2-3 scoreless innings Monday, a 3-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves.

``I'm pretty happy right now,'' Looper said. ``I've given up a few hits but I'll take base hits like that. It's not like balls are flying out of the ballpark, knock on wood.''

His only professional regular-season start was in rookie ball in 1997. Looper, who has 103 saves in 572 major league relief appearances, has allowed only 1-earned run in 11 innings over three spring training starts with only 1-walk.

``Today was probably the worst I've felt,'' he said. ``It's pitching, I guess. I haven't done it a whole lot in my career, but it felt good to stretch it out.''

Braves starter John Smoltz needed only 46 pitches to get through 4-innings and allowed 1-hit. He threw changeups past Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen for called third strikes to end the 1st inning _ Smoltz said he threw about 15 changeups.

``That's a pitch nobody saw me throw a lot,'' Smoltz said.

``Watch out, Glavine and Maddux,'' he added, referring to former teammates Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux.

Smoltz had taken a line drive off his chest in his prior start. Smoltz was down for several minutes after being struck by a ball off the bat of Detroit's Curtis Granderson.

Smoltz lifted his shirt, displaying a large bruise that has yellowed. He said it felt like a ``pulsating knot'' before the game.

``It was fine once I got going,'' Smoltz said. ``I didn't have one thought about it when I was on the mound.''

Atlanta's Chipper Jones sprained his left ankle on a groundout to 1st in the 1st inning, limping off the field after taking only a few steps out of the batter's box. Jones said he was taken out of the game as a precaution.

``It bit me kind of hard, but there's not a lot of swelling,'' Jones said. ``During the season I would have continued to play. Hopefully I'll get back in there tomorrow, because I need some at-bats.''

Rick Ankiel, the former pitcher trying to make it back to the majors as an outfielder, homered off Tyler Yates in the 6th. It was the first homer for St. Louis in 10 games at home, counting an exhibition against Florida Atlantic.

Miguel Negron and Ryan Ludwick added RBI singles in the 8th off Peter Moylan, and Dennis Dove gave up a hit in the 9th for the save.

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