Mulder returns to Cards after rotator cuff surgery

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."