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03/27/07 7:40 PM ET

Notes: Pujols finding stroke

Cardinals slugger pleased with progress at plate

JUPITER, Fla. -- Albert Pujols was never worried. A little irritated, maybe. But not worried.

The Cardinals slugger, who has been as good a hitter in Spring Training as he has in the regular season throughout his career, had been a little off for most of this spring. He entered Tuesday's game against the Dodgers with a .242 average and no home runs.

One mammoth long ball, one single, one walk and one 400-foot foul ball later, Pujols is feeling like himself again.

"Quality at-bats, that's what you want to have here in Spring Training," Pujols said. "Obviously the last couple of weeks have been tough. I haven't been seeing the ball too good. I've been working the last couple of days and I'm seeing the ball better and putting [together] better at-bats. That's where you want to be.

"This is the right time to do it, because Opening Day is Sunday. You want to feel comfortable. You don't want to go to the season and have to worry about your swing not being right."

Pujols hit a magnificent homer in the first inning, a ball that landed on the deck outside the Marlins' team offices beyond the left-field wall at Roger Dean Stadium. Two innings later, he hit a laser-beam liner that went foul before lining out to the pitcher. In the sixth, he singled, and he walked in the eighth.

"Today was really good," Pujols said. "You have the last guy that I faced [Jonathan Broxton] throwing about 97 miles per hour, 95 miles per hour. And I laid off some tough pitches that he threw me and I saw the ball good. That's what I wanted. I don't care if I went 0-for-3 today, 0-for-4. As long as I see the ball good."

Carpenter in control: In his final start before Opening Night, Chris Carpenter pitched seven shutout innings -- the longest game by a Cardinal this spring. He allowed four hits and two walks, striking out five, and faced only one serious jam -- a bases-loaded, one-out spot in the sixth that ended on a double play.

"I threw [93 pitches] today and I felt good out there in the seventh," Carpenter said. "That's all I'm looking for. I'm looking to stay healthy and stay strong, get myself prepared and get my arm in shape to pitch. Results, numbers, I don't care. It doesn't count."

Following Carpenter's game, the five Cardinals starters have a combined 2.03 ERA for the spring.

Molina starts: After missing four games, Yadier Molina returned to the starting lineup on Tuesday, and he looked like he hadn't missed any time. Molina singled and walked in three plate appearances, and threw out Matt Kemp trying to steal second base.

"He said he was going to play under control," manager Tony La Russa said. "I asked him. I said, 'Tell me that was under control.' And he said, 'Oh yeah.' But that was a [heck] of a throw."

Molina will start again on Wednesday.

Unusual play: Carpenter and Molina were both in on what was surely the most improbable play of the day. With Molina, far from fleet-footed, on first base, and lifetime .095 hitter Carpenter at the plate, La Russa called a hit-and-run.

Molina bats seventh rather than eighth in part because his lack of foot speed makes sacrifice bunts a high-risk proposition. So a hit-and-run with Molina and Carpenter was a jarring sight. Remarkably, it worked perfectly. Carpenter poked a single to right field, and Molina chugged all the way around to third base.

"We work on that stuff," Carpenter said. "That's what Spring Training is for. I was waiting for whatever Tony wanted to do."

Said La Russa: "Our guys handle the bat well, and it keeps the bunt defense honest."

Attendance record: Tuesday's crowd of 7,158 gave the Cardinals a season attendance record for Spring Training in Jupiter. The overall count of 102,619 surpassed the 1999 total of 100,662, the only other time at Roger Dean Stadium that St. Louis topped 100,000 through the gates. However, the Cards only had 14 home games in '99. Nine of the 15 home games at Roger Dean this spring were sellouts.

Willard Schmidt passes: Willard Schmidt, who played for the Cardinals from 1952-57, passed away on Thursday at his home near Norman, Okla. He was 78.

Schmidt, a right-handed pitcher, won 25 games over parts of five seasons in St. Louis. He was dealt to the Reds in December of 1957 in the trade that brought Curt Flood to the Cardinals.

Weather report: The forecast calls for a first-pitch temperature of 79 degrees, some clouds, a very slight chance of rain and somewhat lighter winds on Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale.

Coming up: The Cardinals make their final bus trip of the Grapefruit League season on Wednesday when they travel to Fort Lauderdale to play the Orioles. It will be the last spring start for Braden Looper, with Erik Bedard starting for Baltimore. First pitch is at 12:05 p.m. CT.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.