Mulder heads to mound tonight hoping next start is in St. Louis

Thursday, August 17, 2006

ST. LOUIS -- At the trade deadline, the St. Louis Cardinals reconciled their inability to make a big move by reasoning that Mark Mulder's return would serve the same purpose.

The left-hander could be back next week from a shoulder injury. But Mulder, who had a 6.09 ERA when he went on the disabled list in the middle of June, doesn't want to hear that kind of talk.

Even though he entered the year as the winningest pitcher in the majors from 2001 to 2005 -- he's now third-best from 2001 to 2006 -- he doesn't like to be viewed as a savior.

"I'm not looking at it any way like that," Mulder said. "That's how the media makes it out to be, that's what people say or look at it that way.

"I just want to come back healthy and help this team."

Mulder, whose last appearance was an awful stint of 2 1/3 innings against the White Sox on June 20 in which he allowed nine runs, pitches for Class AAA Memphis today in his third rehabilitation start. Because he reverted to old mechanical mistakes in the last one, walking four and allowing four earned runs in four innings, the Cardinals are waiting to see how Mulder fares before committing themselves.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa noted also that, given the team's recent slide, he has other things to worry about.

"It depends on how he feels after he pitches," La Russa said. "One thing at a time. Before he gets back, there's a lot to concentrate on."

Mulder knows he has to prove he's ready, too, to return from rotator cuff inflammation and a shoulder impingement. Instead of throwing over the top, he was at three-quarters in the last few starts before he went on the disabled list, and in the last rehab outing he slid back into that arm slot at times.

The result: a loss of control and pitches that flattened out.

"It's a process of trying to get my arm in the right spot, and when I don't it's inconsistent," Mulder said. "It's more just a matter of getting that right feeling, and then I'm fine."

Mulder's slide is ill-timed for a pitcher headed for free agency.

Mulder, who won 21 games in 2001 for Oakland and at least 15 in each of the next four seasons, never thought correcting his bad habit would be easy.

"It's part of the muscle memory of how long I did it incorrectly," Mulder said. "When maybe you get, say, a little tired or whatever, then you start to go back to what you used to do."

Chris Carpenter, the NL Cy Young Award winner last year, doesn't want Mulder to rush back.

"Obviously, I'd love to see it because he's an important part of this club," Carpenter said, "but he needs to get himself right first."

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