Mulder returns to Cards after rotator cuff surgery

Updated: September 2, 2007, 7:59 PM ET
Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- Mark Mulder will rejoin the St. Louis Cardinals' rotation for the first time in more than a year on Wednesday, just in time for the stretch drive.

Manager Tony La Russa said Sunday he's not sure what to expect from the left-hander, who had rotator cuff surgery in September 2006. But he thought it was worth taking a shot with a man who had been the winningest pitcher this decade before being injured.

"He knows himself better than anybody and he's been getting better and better," La Russa said after the Cardinals beat the Cincinnati Reds 3-2 to complete a three-game sweep. "We're anxious to see him pitch for us."

Left-hander Mike Maroth also will return to a rotation that might need extra starters, given the Cardinals are finishing the season with 35 games in 34 days, after a successful rehab stint from elbow tendinitis. Maroth is 0-4 with an 11.08 ERA, but he'll get another chance at the expense of Anthony Reyes.

Reyes, 2-13 with a 5.63 ERA, lasted only one inning in his last start on Friday. For the immediate future, La Russa said the right-hander who dominated the Tigers in the World Series opener last season will be in the bullpen.

Mulder won 16 games in 2005, his first season with the Cardinals, giving them a strong 1-2 punch along with Chris Carpenter. He battled shoulder problems last year, spending 85 days on the 15-day disabled list and going 6-7 with a 7.14 ERA before undergoing surgery on Sept. 12.

Initially the team believed he could be back in May or June, but the progress has been slow as Mulder retrained his arm. In his fourth rehab start on Friday, Mulder allowed two runs in five innings for Triple-A Memphis, and a chat with the manager the following day finalized the move.

"He liked pretty much everything he did," La Russa said. "I asked him, 'Are you ready, do you need another one?' And he said, 'No, I'm ready to go out there.'

"He admitted he may not be 100 percent of what he was in his heyday, but he's on his way back."

The moves leave the Cardinals entering the week with a six-man lineup of Kip Wells (6-15, 5.50), Joel Pineiro (3-2, 3.71), Mulder, Maroth, Adam Wainwright (13-9, 3.78) and Braden Looper (12-10, 4.45). They're two games behind the Cubs in the NL Central.

Maroth has made six starts, the last one a disaster on Aug. 1 when he gave up seven runs in 1 2/3 innings in a loss at Pittsburgh. His last outing was in relief at Washington on Aug. 4 when he gave up five runs in two-thirds of an inning.

Before Reyes' troubles, the Cardinals were not planning on Maroth to return to the rotation. Maroth threw 2 2/3 innings in his final rehab appearance on Friday, working after Mulder finished.

Maroth believes since going on the DL he's squared away some mechanical difficulties that led him to leave pitches up. He's unlikely to go deep into a game yet, given he threw 41 pitches on Friday, but he definitely feels better.

"For me the game is location, and if I don't to the right release point I'm not going to be able to make my pitch," Maroth said. "It's going to be up in the zone and that's when I'm going to get hurt."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press