Notes: Looper building endurance
Rotation hopeful exceeds three innings against Dodgers
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- When the Cardinals jumped hard-throwing Dodgers right-hander Brad Penny for four runs in the top of the first on Thursday, Braden Looper got the message quickly. The wind at Dodgertown was blowing out, and fiercely. If ever there was a day to keep the ball down, this was it.
Looper did exactly that in his second start of the spring, holding Los Angeles to four singles and only two outs in the air over 3 1/3 innings. Looper struck out one Dodgers hitter and induced seven outs on the ground. Of the four hits, two were grounders that were simply placed in a location where a Cardinal infielder wasn't.
After a first start in which Looper pitched effectively but lamented allowing too many fly balls and popups, he made a big correction this time around. Looper relied heavily on his sinking fastball, letting that pitch -- and his defense -- do all the work. He threw 43 pitches, 30 of them for strikes. All this on a day when the Cardinals hit five home runs, including two by the typically power-challenged Skip Schumaker.
"We got four runs right out of the box there, so I was just wanting to pound the strike zone and not walk guys," Looper said. "The first hit I gave up, to Nomar Garciaparra, it was 3-1 and I don't want to walk anybody. If he hits a home run, he hits a home run, but I just don't want to give him a free base. So I just kept trying to pound the strike zone."
It was Looper's longest outing since his tenure as a starter in the Class A Carolina League, when he was a new Cardinals draftee back in 1997. He pitched three innings in his first Grapefruit League start, which equaled his longest stint as a big-league reliever.
If Looper can continue to be this efficient, many longer appearances will follow. He has done nothing this spring to weaken his case for a job in the starting rotation.
"It was tough to get outs," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. "He had to make really good pitches. They had a good team in there. ... That's pitching."
Kinney's condition: The Cardinals waited on Tuesday for the results of an MRI exam performed on right-hander Josh Kinney's elbow. Kinney reported a "tingling" sensation in his elbow on Monday evening, after he pitched earlier in the day.
"Any time you have tingling in the arm, that's a concern," said pitching coach Dave Duncan. "He said today he felt better than yesterday. I don't know if that's a good sign or not."
According to both Duncan and La Russa, Kinney didn't feel any discomfort in his elbow while he was pitching. Both men said they believed Kinney's "out-of-whack" mechanics were more likely a cause of the elbow condition, rather than a result.
"I just talked to him this morning," La Russa said. "He came by, and I said, 'I keep hearing from different guys that you had expressed some concern.' He said, 'No, my only concern was about my delivery. ... I don't feel right, but it's something with my delivery. If it was arm trouble, I wouldn't take any chances like that.'"
Thinking alike: At least three members of the 2007 Dodgers are players in whom the Cardinals had some level of interest during the free-agent period this winter. St. Louis made plays for starting pitchers Randy Wolf and Jason Schmidt, and the club at least had outfielder Luis Gonzalez on its radar. Both Wolf and Schmidt ended up putting a great deal of value on playing in Southern California, so the Redbirds lost out on both, but nonetheless, it's clear that the two clubs had some overlap in the players they pursued.
"I told [Dodgers manager] Grady [Little], 'If you're wrong, we're wrong,'" La Russa quipped. "Because we chased a lot of the same guys."
In the case of Wolf, the Cardinals offered a significantly larger contract, but the left-hander wanted to come home. With Schmidt, there were additional factors besides staying in California. The righty has a level of comfort with Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti and head athletic trainer Stan Conte, both of whom were with him in San Francisco.
"I don't think they used us," La Russa said. "I think there was a West Coast edge there that we couldn't overcome. Same thing with Wolf."
Big blast: Chris Duncan and Edgar Gonzalez each went deep for the second time this spring on Wednesday. Duncan's shot was a mammoth blast that appeared to hit off a façade of the new building that stands well beyond the right-field wall at Holman Stadium.
Asked if he had seen the Duncan shot, Looper replied, "How could you miss that?"
Weather report: If you've spent any time in southeastern Florida for Spring Training, then Thursday's conditions will be familiar. The forecast calls for a game time temperature of 79 degrees, few clouds, almost no chance of rain and a healthy breeze.
Coming up: The Minnesota Twins will make the trip across the state from Fort Myers to face the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium on Thursday. Scott Baker will start for Minnesota, with Kip Wells going for the Cardinals. First pitch is set for 12:05 p.m. CT. Neither of the Twins' ex-Cardinals, Sidney Ponson or Carmen Cali, is expected to pitch in the game.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.