JUPITER, Fla. -- The consensus opinion is that Cardinals starting pitcher Chris Carpenter is back in form this spring.

Carpenter, 33, made his third Grapefruit League start Thursday and turned in a performance that evoked nothing but positive reaction from himself, manager Tony La Russa and Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan.

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"It was another nice step forward, and I'm throwing more pitches," Carpenter said after he pitched four shutout innings Thursday in the Cardinals' 4-2 win against the visiting Boston Red Sox at Roger Dean Stadium.

Carpenter, plagued by arm injuries the past two seasons that included right elbow surgery last November, allowed only two hits, walked two and struck out one. A sign that he might be regaining confidence on the mound came in the top of the first inning, when Boston left fielder Josh Reddick led off the game with a triple to the gap in left-center field. Carpenter, however, pitched out of the inning unscathed, inducing a couple of groundouts and striking out Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek.

"No matter if it's here or in the regular season, you can't try to do anything more than make pitches," Carpenter said of his first inning. "I threw a nice slider to [Julio] Lugo and some nice pitches to Varitek and moved on."

Carpenter, the 2005 National League Cy Young Award winner, faced the minimum nine batters over the next three innings before leaving the game after throwing 48 pitches, including 28 for strikes.

"It was another positive outing for him," Duncan said of Carpenter, who has not allowed an earned run in eight innings pitched.

Duncan said he had "no idea what to expect" this spring of Carpenter, who was shut down for the final month of the 2008 season because of nerve irritation around his right shoulder.

"If you asked me what I was hoping for, this would be it," Duncan said. "I consider it a very positive day. So far, it's very encouraging what's taken place."

Duncan said Carpenter's pitch count probably will be increased to about 60 pitches in his next outing, which will likely be next Wednesday against the Orioles.

"You want to let him ease back into the competition," Duncan said. "He still has time to get his pitch count up to where we'd like it at the beginning of the season."

Carpenter, who grew up a Red Sox fan, said he ignored the buildup of starting Thursday's game against Boston and Josh Beckett, who also pitched four shutout innings before leaving for the showers. Carpenter also said he didn't notice the packed Roger Dean Stadium crowd of 8,306 on hand to watch the matchup.

"I didn't pay any attention to it," Carpenter said. "It was fun going out there and competing."

La Russa said he was especially pleased with the way Carpenter did not let the leadoff triple by Reddick bother him.

"That's pitching," said La Russa, who also complimented the relief job of potential closer Josh Kinney, who pitched the ninth and picked up the win thanks to a two-run walk-off homer by Joe Mather.

Carpenter said he would like to be able to reach a pitch count between 80 and 90 by the end of Spring Training, but the most important thing right now is that he is injury-free.

"I'm healthy. That's what counts," Carpenter said. "It's been going well. I haven't had any issues yet. Results-wise, it's been good."