JUPITER, Fla. (AP) - Kyle McClellan's first audition to join the starting rotation for the St. Louis Cardinals impressed manager Tony La Russa.
Bidding to move from the bullpen to the fifth spot, McClellan pitched three scoreless innings and the Cardinals beat a Houston split squad 1-0 Saturday in a brisk 1 hour, 52 minutes.
McClellan is the favorite to fill a slot left by Adam Wainwright, who had season-ending ligament replacement surgery earlier this week. All 202 appearances in McClellan's major league career have come in relief, and he's 7-15 with a 3.28 ERA overall.
``I know coming into this I'm in a good position,' said McClellan, who threw 25 of his 38 pitches for strikes.
``I am going to be fighting and scratching the whole way. I've had the opportunity in the past, but there is no better opportunity than this. In my mind it's my job and I'm going to go out and make sure nobody else can take it,' he said.
McClellan allowed two hits, one of which didn't leave the infield. He struck two of the first three batters he faced, then breezed through the second inning on five pitches.
``The statement he made was that he was ready to compete,' La Russa said. ``He competed. The statements get made for the body of work. That was his first opportunity to make an impression and he's serious about going after it.'
The Cardinals scored their run in the third. Colby Rasmus reached on an two-out error by first baseman Brett Wallace, advanced to second on Albert Pujols' single up the middle and scored on Matt Holliday's single.
Lance Berkman went 0 for 3 as the designated hitter in his first appearance against his former team. Berkman spent his first 11 major league seasons with Houston before being traded to the New York Yankees last season. He signed with the Cardinals in the offseason.
Five Cardinal relievers followed McClellan and preserved the shutout. Houston's starting lineup featured only three likely opening day starters.
NOTES: La Russa expects projected opening day 3B David Freese to play for the first time this spring on Sunday against Florida. Freese has been limited this spring after undergoing offseason surgery on both ankles. He hit .296 last season with four home runs and 36 RBI in 70 games. ``He's done everything, progressed more and more,' La Russa said. ``He's passed all the tests.'
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