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Wainwright still in ‘happy zone’

Associated Press

JUPITER, Fla. — Adam Wainwright has no idea who the fan was that gave him that picture last week. He’d sure like to tell them thank you.

Wainwright limited Washington to one run in six strong innings in the St. Louis Cardinals’ 5-1 exhibition victory over the Nationals on Friday, his second consecutive impressive start since a fan helped him fix a mechanical flaw.

The right-hander was leaving the stadium following a rough start against the Nationals on March 2 when a group of fans handed him picture. He noticed his stride had shortened this spring and he extended it 6 inches for his next outing. In two starts since the change, he has allowed one earned run in 10 2-3 innings.

“It’s made a huge deal,” Wainwright said. “It gives my pitches more life. I’ve found that happy zone where I’m not extended too far where my ball flattens out but I’m a little bit closer to the plate now and I’m able to get on top of the ball so I’m getting better downhill plane. It really was an adjustment that helped in all aspects.”

Facing mostly Washington backups, Wainwright took a shutout into the sixth inning and allowed only three hits on the day manager Mike Matheny officially confirmed he’d start opening day April 1 in Arizona.

Jon Jay and Matt Adams homered in a four-run first inning for the Cardinals. Nationals starter Dan Haren rebounded from there, allowing just one earned run and two hits in the next four innings.

Haren, the right-hander who signed a one-year deal with the Nationals in the offseason, gave up five earned runs and six hits in five innings. He has a 5.79 ERA in four spring starts.

“That was just one of those days, man,” Haren said. “I felt like I was throwing a weighted ball out there. It was just bad all the way around. As I went along it was a little bit better, but my first couple starts were far and away better than this.

“I don’t know if it’s dead arm or I don’t even know what that is, I just didn’t feel great.”

Former pitcher Micah Owings had another solid day at the plate for Washington as he continues to try and make the switch from the mound to full-time position player. Owings, who will likely start the year at Triple-A, hit a grand slam Thursday and went 2 for 2 Friday. He’s hitting .429 (9-for-21).

The 30-year-old Owings is a career .283 hitter with nine home runs in 205 at-bats in six big league seasons.

Mets 5, Braves 2

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Jeremy Hefner showed that he can punch out hitters if he gets riled up enough.

Not known as a strikeout pitcher, Hefner struck out the last six Atlanta batters he faced in a five-inning outing marred earlier by two home runs in the New York Mets’ 5-2 win over the Braves.

“I got mad more than anything,” Hefner said. “I was less than thrilled with my performance before then.”

Juan Francisco hit a leadoff homer in the third inning and Freddie Freeman connected to start the fourth. But after B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla followed Freeman’s blast with singles, Hefner ended the inning with three strikeouts and then fanned the side in the fifth.

Asked when he had struck out six in a row the last time, Hefner said, “High school or maybe college. Is that what I had?”

The Mets have an open spot in their rotation because of the absence of Johan Santana and Hefner will likely fill it. He has a 2.93 ERA this spring and 15 strikeouts with only three walks in 15 1-3 innings.

The 27-year-old pitcher split last season between the majors and Triple-A Buffalo, going 4-7 with a 5.09 ERA in 26 games (13 starts) for the Mets.

Giants 5, Rangers 2

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Matt Cain gave up two hits in five shutout innings and Hunter Pence and Andres Torres hit two-run homers in the San Francisco Giants’ 5-2 victory over the Texas Rangers.

Cain, the Giants’ opening day starter, got defensive help from his batterymate, Buster Posey, the reigning National League MVP. Posey threw out two runners out at second base on steal attempts.

Right-hander Derek Lowe, signed to a minor-league contract by Texas on March 6, made his first start of the spring and gave up two hits and a walk in two innings.

Pence hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning to break a scoreless tie and added a run-scoring double in the sixth for a 3-0 lead.

White Sox 15, Cubs 3

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Dayan Viciedo hit a grand slam and a two-run double, Dewayne Wise and Jordan Danks also homered, and Gavin Floyd allowed one run over 5 1-3 innings in the Chicago White Sox’s 15-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs.

The Sox beat their crosstown rival for the second time in two games this season.

Wise homered for the third time this spring, and Paul Konerko raised his average to .394 with a single and a double. Konerko also walked and scored two runs.

Viciedo’s homer was a deep blast to right-center field.

Royals (ss) 7, Padres 5 (ss)

SURPRISE, Ariz. — Luke Hochevar worked two perfect innings in relief, David Lough had two more hits and a Kansas City Royals split-squad rallied to beat a San Diego Padres split-squad 7-5.

Hochevar, the first player selected in the 2006 draft, was sent to the bullpen Wednesday after struggling the past five seasons as a starter. He struck out two and threw 16 strikes in 23 pitches.

Lough went 2 for 3 to raise his spring average to .548.

Tigers 4, Blue Jays 2

LAKELAND, Fla. — Toronto Blue Jays starter Ricky Romero allowed three runs in three innings, including a long home run by Jhonny Peralta, in a 4-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers. Rick Porcello pitched five innings and allowed two earned runs for the Tigers.

After going 15-11 in 2011, Romero slumped to a 9-14 record with a 5.77 earned run average in 2012. He was the second-oldest pitcher in the Jays’ rotation, and this year he is the second-youngest.

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said he has total belief that Romero can regain his 2011 form.

“He just needs to find his balance,” Gibbons said. “He is taking too much time on the mound. He’ll find it.”

Romero has a 7.27 ERA this spring, but said he isn’t worried.


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