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Notes: Springer makes spring debut

Notes: Springer makes spring debut

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JUPITER, Fla. -- Quietly, long after Jason Isringhausen had pitched, another Cardinal made his first Grapefruit League appearance of the season. And as with Isringhausen, Russ Springer mostly just wanted to feel normal when he threw the ball.

"All I wanted to do was feel healthy," said Springer, who had been sidelined with a strained left oblique muscle. "You can throw all the side [sessions] you want, and you think you're throwing full tilt with your regular mechanics, but you're not until you get out there. When I went out there, it felt good."

Springer permitted three base hits and a run, but he struck out two. He'll pitch again on Sunday, and the expectation is that his results will improve significantly.

"Next time out there, I think Springer will be fine," pitching coach Dave Duncan said. "He hasn't thrown live batting practice. So he really hasn't faced hitters swinging at him, and sometimes that is a little bit of an adjustment to make."

Wainwright recovers: Adam Wainwright saw the downside of pitching to contact on Thursday. The right-hander allowed seven base hits in five innings, though none went for extra bases. He allowed two runs in his first inning, then went scoreless over the next four.

"We stress trying to get ground balls, and today a lot of them found holes," pitching coach Duncan said. "Sometimes that happens. But generally, a ground ball is a single, not a double or a triple or a home run. So we'll take it when it happens. You can pitch around singles pretty easy, like we did today."

Wainwright struck out four and didn't issue a walk. It was the first time this spring he allowed a run, but his ERA remains a spiffy 1.08.

"I felt pretty strong today, stronger than I have been," he said. "My curveball was better than it has been, still not great, but it was better. The main thing for me today was locating my fastball, and I did that. Between starts I really worked hard on locating to the opposite side of the plate, and I was able to do that."

Molina seventh: Yadier Molina hit seventh on Thursday, a place in the batting order where he's found himself quite a lot this spring. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa prefers to hit Molina there rather than eighth, for a couple of reasons.

First, he'd rather have a player with at least some speed batting in front of the pitcher, so as to increase the success rate of sacrifice bunt attempts. La Russa also pointed to another reason -- he likes having Molina at the plate with the chance to drive in a run.

"Mostly [it's] because he takes better at-bats with men in scoring position than some of the other guys," La Russa said.

Molina, who batted .216/.274/.321 (average/on-base/slugging) overall last year, hit a more robust .267/.347/.333 with runners in scoring position in 2006. For his career, Molina is a .296/.359/.371 hitter in such situations.

Tip of the hat: In Winston-Salem, N.C., on Wednesday, Texas Tech basketball coach Bob Knight and Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan had an exchange about, of all things, the Redbirds.

Ryan, according to multiple reports, began to ask Knight a question in a pre-NCAA tournament news conference. Knight, a friend of La Russa's, asked Ryan where he got his tan.

"Florida, Spring Training, hanging out with your buddy La Russa," Ryan replied. "So what do you like about your team?"

Knight, playfully, shot back, "What do you like most about the Cardinals?"

To which, Ryan quickly replied: "Albert Pujols."

Ryan's quickness at thinking on his feet drew admiration from the coach.

"That's a brilliant answer for a writer, I want to tell you," Knight said, sounding a lot like his friend La Russa. "I'm not kidding you, that is really good. I mean you kind of stuck it to me with that answer, I can tell you. I didn't think you could come up with an answer that good; that is really good."

Coaching shuffle: Joe Cunningham, the hitting coach for the Cards' Double-A Springfield affiliate, has taken a leave of absence, according to a club official. To fill his place, Class A Palm Beach hitting coach Derrick May has been promoted to Springfield, and Steve Dillard has been bumped up from hitting coach at Class A Quad Cities to Palm Beach. Nelson Norman will serve as the hitting coach at Quad Cities.

Bits and pieces: As La Russa hinted a couple of days ago, Scott Spiezio got the start in right field on Thursday. ... Duncan said that he'd still like to find a way for Ryan Franklin to get a start, perhaps in a "B" game, but that Brad Thompson will likely continue pitching in relief in "A" games. Chris Narveson will start a Triple-A game in the coming days. ... Randy Flores pitched his fourth straight scoreless outing, breezing through a perfect 1-2-3 frame with two strikeouts.

Weather report: The forecast sounded a little threatening on Thursday, but everything held and it was another beautiful day. On Friday evening, though, the Cards and Braves could be in for some rain. The forecast calls for a game-time temperature of 73 degrees and a 30-percent chance of isolated thunderstorms.

Coming up: The Cardinals take pretty much the whole roster to Orlando for two games against the Braves at Cracker Jack Stadium. Chris Carpenter will start under the lights against Atlanta lefty Mark Redman. First pitch is set for 6:05 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.

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