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Hampton turns in encouraging outing
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JUPITER, Fla. — Mike Hampton is back on track to open the season in the Atlanta Braves’ rotation.

Hampton allowed a run and two hits over 4 1-3 innings in a 4-2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday. The left-hander’s encouraging performance came 10 days after he had to leave a start with a slight right groin pull.

He threw 75 pitches in his longest outing of the spring. His previous best was only two innings in his exhibition debut on March 2.

"That’s the biggest hurdle I’ve jumped over yet," Hampton said. "To be able to extend it and run the bases little bit, even though I took it easy a little bit, it was a good step.

"I’m pretty happy with the results and where I’m at."

Hampton left his March 7 start against the Tigers after only four outs, and threw a 59-pitch simulated game on Wednesday. He missed all of last season with an elbow injury.

"I threw as many pitches as I needed to throw and the quality was pretty good," said Hampton, who struck out three and walked three against the Cardinals. "I can build off this, and I don’t see any reason why I can’t be ready to go."

Rick Ankiel, who’s batting .362 heading into his first full season as a starting outfielder, hit a go-ahead, two-run double off Atlanta’s Blaine Boyer in the sixth inning. Boyer has lost his last two outings.

Cardinals shortstop Cesar Izturis committed his sixth error of the spring, one more than his hit total, and was 0-for-2 to drop his average to .139. Second baseman Brendan Ryan recovered the ball after Izturis struggled with Mark Teixeira’s grounder, and his throw to first was just late.

St. Louis’ Chris Duncan was 0-for-2, is hitless in 22 at-bats this month and is batting .038 overall (1-for-26).

Right fielder Jeff Francoeur was not with the Braves, a day after he was beaned by Todd Wellemeyer and escaped with a busted lip. Francoeur returned to Orlando and was hopeful of returning to the lineup on Wednesday or Thursday.

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