PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Facing a decidedly first-string lineup, Chris Carpenter did not deviate from his plan on Thursday. He continued to work on developing his fourth-string pitch.

Carpenter threw a large number of changeups in his 26-pitch Grapefruit League debut, allowing two runs in three innings, but nonetheless walking away satisfied.

"My goal was to throw some changeups and locate my fastball, and I did that," Carpenter said. "I threw a lot of strikes. I threw a couple bad changeups that got hit, but besides that, I threw a nice breaking ball strike one to Carlos [Delgado]. It was a nice first one."

Jose Reyes lined out to open the game, and David Wright placed a bloop double in shallow right. Carlos Beltran ripped a triple to center and scored on Delgado's sacrifice fly, and after that the Mets were done getting anything against Carpenter. He retired the final eight batters he faced.

Carpenter is making it a point not to neglect his three primary pitches -- fastball, cutter, curveball. But he's still concentrating on being able to throw game-quality changes as frequently as possible.

"I threw a bunch of them today, probably a lot more than I would in a regular game," he said. "But I'm just throwing it to get ready to go. I told Gary [Bennett, catcher] before I went out there. He asked me what I wanted to do and I said I wanted to locate my fastball in and out, and I want to throw a bunch of changeups and mix in one or two curveballs."

So, although Carpenter comes out of the game with a 6.00 ERA, he has no complaints. When you're a Cy Young contender, you can worry about getting ready rather than stringing together zeroes in early March.

"He got good, positive work, and he'll get ready for the next time out," said manager Tony La Russa.

Cabrera sharp: Utility man Jolbert Cabrera got the start at shortstop in place of David Eckstein on Thursday. Though he went 0-for-3 at the plate, he played slick defense, which may be just as important. Cabrera has played seven positions in the Major Leagues, but has only 46 games at shortstop.

Still, he looked like a natural, making some quality throws and doing a nice job to start a double play in the sixth.

Aaron Miles served as the Cards backup shortstop in 2006, but he's better suited to play second base. If Cabrera shows himself to be a superior defensive shortstop, it will increase his chances of making the team.

"He's going to play other places as [well]," La Russa said. "But every time he plays, he can show what kind of bat he's got, how much life he's got in his legs."

Familiar faces: Braden Looper makes his first game start in nearly 10 years on Friday at Roger Dean Stadium. He'll do it against a team he knows well -- the Mets, for whom he pitched in 2004 and 2005. That coincidence spawned a slew of questions on Thursday from New York reporters for La Russa about the right-hander.

Looper recorded 57 saves in two seasons in New York, but shoulder troubles limited his effectiveness, particularly in his second season. He's still not well-received, to say the least, at Shea Stadium.

La Russa reiterated his confidence in Looper, and more specifically in pitching coach Dave Duncan, whose idea it was to switch Looper to starting.

"Our pitching coach never does anything lightly," La Russa said. "This guy has got a real good track record of coming up with ideas that work. He evaluated Braden and said, 'This guy has a lot going for him.' So far in camp, every time he's thrown, I think he's had better command. His stuff was always good. We'll see tomorrow. I think he's got a lot going for him."

The skipper is not the only one enthused to see Looper start. Carpenter said he was eager to watch as well.

"It's going to be fun," said Carpenter, who's served as a sounding board for Looper's questions regarding the transition. "I'm excited for him, because he's excited about this opportunity. So I'm excited for him. I'm excited to see him go out and throw, see him go out and start pitching and see what he can do."

Reaction: La Russa was less than pleased with some published comments by former Cardinal outfielder and current Tigers coach Andy Van Slyke. In a story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Van Slyke questioned La Russa's frequent assertion that Chris Duncan's defense will be "average at worst" by the end of Spring Training.

"Average at worst? He might be average at best, not worst," Van Slyke told the paper. "It's sort of like me at third base [for the Cardinals]. Some things just aren't going to happen."

That didn't sit well with La Russa, who believes fervently that Duncan's outfield defense will become an asset with time and effort.

"I'm surprised, because I know he was an outstanding outfielder and Jimmy [Leyland, Tigers manager and a friend of La Russa] is real pleased with the way he coaches the outfielders.

"I was surprised that he can't remember experiences where a guy who starts out with defensive struggles and is committed to working in the right way becomes better than average. I can't disagree more with his comment. And I'll stand by what I said about, whether it's Chris or anybody you look at. He's a good athlete. He's a great competitor and he's working his tail] off."

It was suggested that perhaps Van Slyke's point was that either someone is an outfielder or is not -- that one can't be made into an outfielder.

"That's why I don't understand what he's saying," La Russa responded, "because none of that is true. If you're willing to work and you work on the right things, if you have below average skills, you can become an average defender. That's one of the beauties of defense.

"If you have average skills, you can be better than average. If you have above average, you can be terrific. Chris, he really runs well for a big guy. He's got a nice arm. He's going to work, he'll get confident. The more he plays, he'll get more confident."

Hello, Jorge: The Cardinals hit three home runs on Thursday, two of them off of an ex-teammate. Jorge Sosa, who allowed a staggering 10 homers in 30 2/3 innings as a Cardinal, served up long balls to Duncan and Scott Spiezio in the fourth inning as the Cardinals came back to tie the game at 2.

An Anderson Hernandez RBI single eventually won the game for the Mets.

Quotable: "I wouldn't trade Yadier Molina for any other catcher in the National League or the American League. ... I think he's a tough out, outstanding defensively, a very tough competitor, a great teammate." -- La Russa.

Weather report: Friday should bring more of the same conditions on Florida's southeastern coast. Temperatures are expected to be in the low 80s at first pitch, with a few clouds. There's a 30 percent chance of scattered storms by the end of the game.

Coming up: The same two teams complete their home-and-home series on Friday at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter. Chan Ho Park will start for New York. Looper will start for the Cardinals, followed by Ryan Franklin, Chris Narveson, Josh Kinney, Kelvin Jimenez, Dennis Dove and Ricardo Rincon. Game time is 1:05 p.m. ET.