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Tuesday, March 22, 2005; Page D06

John Smoltz is answering those who doubted he could return to the starting rotation at the age of 37.

Smoltz pitched five shutout innings to lead the Atlanta Braves over the St. Louis Cardinals, 9-0, yesterday in Kissimmee, Fla.

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Smoltz allowed four hits and was helped by three double plays. The Braves' closer the last three seasons has allowed only nine hits in 14 scoreless innings this spring.

"Why not keep going out there and putting zeros up?" Smoltz asked. "That's going to be my mind-set in the regular season." . . .

Closer Eric Gagne worked on adjusting his pitching motion during his one inning of work in the Dodgers' 7-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox.

Gagne hadn't pitched since he sprained a ligament in his knee on Feb. 24 during fielding drills. Yesterday, the right-hander took a quick hop after every pitch to prevent too much strain on the knee when his front leg landed.

"I tried to protect it and not put too much weight on it," he said. "It feels pretty good right now. I knew it wouldn't feel good" during the game. . . .

Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is scheduled to pitch tonight for the first time since being sidelined last week with mild bursitis in his right elbow.

Shortstop Derek Jeter underwent treatment for his bruised left foot, and there is a chance he could return today.

-- From News Services

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