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Zimmermann tosses 3 scoreless innings for Nats

Jordan Zimmermann knows exactly what Washington Nationals teammate Stephen Strasburg is going through.

Zimmermann made just seven starts last year after returning from elbow reconstruction surgery in August of 2009. Strasburg had the procedure last September.

"The same thing Strasburg is doing right now I was doing last year," Zimmermann said. "It's good that I'm finally able to get out there and get on the mound again (during spring training)."

He gave up four hits in three scoreless innings Thursday in the Nationals' 7-5 loss to a split-squad of St. Louis Cardinals. Zimmermann, the Nationals' top pitching prospect before Strasburg was drafted, was 1-2 with a 4.94 ERA last season.

"I feel better now than I did last August and September," Zimmermann said. "My arm was a little tight in August and September but now I can get full range of motion and everything feels good."

Manager Jim Riggleman is pleased with the progress Zimmermann is making.

"The thing with Zim is we really continue to just look at the whole progression from many months ago, the surgery, to now being able to take the ball every fifth day and doing work between," Riggleman said.

Mark Hamilton drove in two runs for the Cardinals, and slugger Albert Pujols was 2 for 2 with a walk after starting the spring hitless in five at-bats and striking out three times Wednesday.

Pujols had two singles against Zimmermann. He is 4 for 5 with two home runs and a double against Zimmermann in his career.

"I just wonder what the ball looks like when it comes into Pujols, if he sees a beach ball or what," Zimmermann said. "That's what it seems to me every time I'm out there throwing."

Cardinals closer Ryan Franklin tossed two scoreless innings, giving up three hits and loading the bases in the fourth before getting out of the jam.

"It's a start," Franklin said. "It doesn't matter if I load the bases every time as long as it's with two outs and you get them out. It won't be good for the fans, though."

Cardinals prospect Brandon Dickson allowed two runs, one earned, on four hits in three innings.

"I told the guys I'm still coming down from my high," he said.

Dickson, a long shot to fill the rotation spot vacated by Adam Wainwright's season-ending injury, started 27 games last season at Triple-A Memphis.

Nationals prospect Bryce Harper, the top pick in the 2010 draft, was 0 for 2. Harper is hitting .143, with a single and a walk in seven at bats.

NOTES: Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter, who strained his left hamstring Monday, played catch for about 10 minutes Thursday. "It was fine," he said. "I still feel it a little bit, which I think is expected. But if it keeps getting better every day like it has then we'll be fine." ... Lance Berkman was scratched as the Cardinals' designated hitter because of a sore left calf. He also is battling a sore left elbow.