Next game: Today, at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, 12:05 p.m. CDT.
After the 4-2 loss to the Phillies, Cardinals’ manager Tony La Russa said he felt worse for Mark Mulder than he did for the team. Mulder as much as took himself out of the game after calling medical personnel from the dugout after facing only three batters.
Mulder stated that he felt significant pain on a strikeout pitch to the Phil’s leadoff man, Jimmy Rollins. From that point, Mulder revealed that the pain lessened, but that he couldn’t get his arm up to where it needed to be to make an effective delivery. His description was evidenced by the eight straight balls he threw to the next two hitters. After only 16 pitches, Mulder’s night was over, and considering his past injuries, the possibility of a longer down-time becomes a major concern.
Brad Thompson would come on in the first inning with only one out and two Phillies’ base runners aboard. The middle infielders would help him out of the jam, Aaron Miles pivoting on a Ryan Howard ground ball, to Izturis, to Pujols for an inning-ending double play.
The game turned into a duel between Thompson and Phils’ starter, J. A. Happ.
The Phillies attempt to something going in the third was snuffed when Cards’ catcher Jason LaRue gunned down Victorino attempting to steal second. LaRue’s throw was perfectly spotted, a couple inches off the dirt on the first base side of second base.
The Cardinals wasted a LaRue double in the fourth.
Thompson pitched himself in and out of jam in the bottom of the fourth, the Phillies stranding a couple base runners.
Happ then took his turn at putting himself in a bind in the next inning, allowed two Cards’ base runners before pitching his way clear by striking out Ryan Ludwick, then, after intentionally walking Albert Pujols, getting Troy Glaus to fly out.
The Phils got to Thompson in the fifth, Carlos Ruiz singling, then scoring on a Rollins triple. A couple batters and a single later, Howard singled home Victorino to put the Phils up 2-0.
La Russa called upon Russ Springer, who struck out Pat Burrell to stop the bleeding.
Happ sailed through his half of the sixth, but the Cardinals went to their fourth pitcher of the night with Jason Isringhausen. The former Cards’ closer walked one batter, but picked on Happ for the last out.
Cesar Izturis and Skip Schumaker would finally chase Happ in the seventh, hitting a single and a double, respectively. Chad Durbin relieved Happ, but ended up walking Ludwick. Pujols hit a sacrifice fly, scoring Izturis to bring the Cards within one at 2-1. Glaus then singled to center, Schumaker scoring the tying run. Ankiel was then walked intentionally to load the bases. Joe Mather pinch-hit for Isringhausen, but struck out to end the Cardinals’ chances for a much bigger inning.
With the game tied at 2-2, La Russa called in the fifth pitcher in the form of Kyle McClellan, who cruised through the seventh.
Phillies’ manager Charlie Manuel brought on Clay Condrey to start the eighth inning, striking out LaRue, Brendan Ryan, and Izturis, the lot of them swinging.
McClellan had the Phils’ eighth inning leadoff man, Howard, down 0-2 before throwing a mistake pitch, Howard depositing the ball in the right field stands, the Phils reclaiming the lead at 3-2. La Russa went to his fifth reliever, sixth pitcher overall, calling in Chris Perez. For two batters, it appeared as if Perez would give the Cards a shot at a one-run chase to tie when he struck out Pat Burrell and Jayson Werth. Pedro Feliz would have none of Perez’s ideas of striking out the side, however, taking the rookie deep to left, increasing the Phillies’ lead to 4-2.
The Cardinals would face Brad Lidge in the ninth, the closer opening the door by walking the leadoff man, Schumaker, bringing the tying run to the plate in the form of Ludwick. Lidge would get the two Cards’ All-Stars, however, striking out Ludwick on a perfect low and away pitch, then getting Pujols to lift a low pitch for an easy fly out to right field.
Still, Lidge couldn’t stand prosperity, walking Glaus after having him down in the count. Ankiel had a chance to play hero once more, but it was not to be, Lidge getting him down 0-2 and then getting him to swing over a low pitch and strike out to end the game, the Cards going down 4-2.
The loss will force a rubber game tomorrow afternoon, with the bullpen usage already on the verge of out of hand. La Russa will field a time, all right, and won’t have a problem until the rotation brings the Cards around to Mulder’s spot once more.
At this point, there is no telling what the Mulder situation will be, but you might imagine how much Mozeliak’s wheels are turning now, with the trade deadline getting closer every day.
Speculation: Cards’ GM John Mozeliak is in Philadelphia with an agenda.
The agenda: Evaluate Mark Mulder, as completely as possible.
Why? To determine the true status of the Cardinals’ starting rotation; what shape it’s in now; what shape it’s likely to be in over the course of the second half of the season. There’s already a surplus of ifs when it comes to Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, not to mention an overworked and sometimes shakey bullpen. But with a pretty solid current rotation, there’s certainly no need to panic–yet.
The best move the Cardinals have made so far in light of the current trades involving C.C. Sabathia to the Brewers and Rich Harden to the Cubs is no move at all. Any hurried acquisition or trade right now would only be the result of a Cardinal running around with its head cut off.
But don’t think for a minute that Mozeliak and company aren’t discussing every possible option should the organization come to the conclusion that one of its long-awaited hurting hurlers is a definite no-go for this season. Argue you all you want about just who falls into this group, but you could almost sense the pressure rise as the odds on a Clement comeback this year had dropped into the basement.
Wainwright looks good to make his way back before too long. Carpenter has made excellent progress in his rehab, but it’s still far too early to tell, leaving him as a constant question mark, maybe the biggest the Cards have to dwell upon.
And again there’s Mulder. And all eyes are upon him, but possibly none more intently than Mozeliak’s. Configure the question marks and odds and progress (or lack of it) however you like, and still, Mulder’s status will have the biggest impact on the immediate strategy of potential trades.
The Mozeliak Agenda: you bet. But if I’m right about the significance of his evaluation of Mulder tonight, it’s not a dark secret. Actually, it’s his job, to figure these things out, to evaluate Mulder with a magnifying glass, to go over his performance with the proverbial fine-tooth comb. Think about it; it’s the only way Mozeliak can evaluate the potential need for trades as the deadline rapidly approaches.
No one with any baseball brains is going to expect perfection out of Mulder tonight, but what if he’s in good shape, no big hitches or twitches?
Then you can see why there’s no rush to make deals, or for Mozeliak to even discuss the same (in public, anyway). If Mulder has a good showing, you’d still have the other ifs, but you’d be one arm closer to solidifying the rotation. In such a case, Mozeliak’s eyeballing would then turn to Wainwright and Carpenter, with Wainwright the next one up for an A-to-Z inspection.
When the best-guess scenario is thrown down regarding the aforementioned starters, the head-scratching will get rougher concerning the bullpen.
The need for that one-to-two inning big-talent lefty is obvious, and looming. And it is a deal that can be done, with money, with prospects, with the current roster. That discussion will be harder on Cardinal Nation then Cardinals’ management. Any move for a proven, high-quality lefthanded closer, for instance, would be exciting, but whatever is dealt away would almost certainly be surprising, even shocking. That’s how big deals are made.
But I’ve sort of put the Clydesdales before the wagon regarding the latter, because the whole issue of a potential trade hinges on Mulder. And whatever agenda flow chart is to follow, no strategy can be implemented until this pitcher on the comeback trail takes the mound tonight, in Philadelphia.
Next game: @ Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, tonight, 6:05 p.m. CDT.
Probables: STL-Mark Mulder (0-0, 13.50) vs. PHL-J.A. Happ (0-0, 3.86).
NLC: The Chicago Cubs remain in first place. St. Louis has edged into second place by percentage points, 3.5 games back, as is Milwaukee, slipping ever so slightly into third.
C.C. Sabathia, a new force to reckon with in the NLC, won in his first appearance for the Brewers last night, 7-3, defeating the Colorado Rockies in Milwaukee.
Rich Harden hasn’t pitched for the Chicago Cubs yet, but he strengthens an already strong rotation. The Cubs handled the San Francisco Giants last night, 7-3, behind the pitching of Ryan Dempster.
Randy Flores pitched in one inning for Triple-A Memphis, just coming off the DL for an inflamed left ankle.
Memphis Redbirds (AAA): Mitchell Boggs (6-1) picked up another victory versus the New Orleans Zephyrs in Louisiana last night. The Redbirds won 3-1, all of their offense coming off the longball, three solos shots. Cody Haerther counted for one of the homers, his second. Nick Stavinoha hit two, bringing his season total to 12.
Clayton Mortensen RHP (4-1, 2.70) pitches tonight.
Justin Fiske is a minor-league pitcher to watch. The Springfield News Leader did a feature on the lefthanded pitcher who, undrafted, made it into the Cardinals system and has worked his way up to the Double-A level with the Springfield Cardinals. His strikes to walks ratio in junior college was an impressive 4-to-1. In Low-A ball at Quad-Cities, it was an insane 10-to-1, approximately. Now, in Springfield, the ratio is about 6-to-1.
It is thought that Fiske keeps getting overlooked because of his small stature when compared to the common MLB pitcher. He is 5-11, 185-pounds.
Not a day goes without some type of report concerning one of the bevy of ailing Cardinals’ pitchers. It’s hard to keep them all straight.
Whose shoulder? Which elbow? How many fingers? And every question is followed by “is injured” or “is aching” or “is in need of medical assessment.” No sense giving you a list, either, because by the time it’s posted or you get your 4thebirds feed after getting home from work, somebody’s arm will have a new status.
Point is, all the, “He should be back in action by [insert July or August or September]” statements are nothing more than guesswork, and when you’re a Redbirds’ fan, the tendency to believe a particular hurler will be back in time to have an impact on the pennant race is probably skewed by wishful thinking.
The less patient Cards’ fans may be throwing a collective fit if and when a certain pitcher returns, only to find out that while he’s doing okay, the “okay” part would better describe a pitcher in Spring Training, or the earliest part of the season. For any one of the long list of once-proven, high-quality hurlers to step up that mound and mow ’em down inning after inning would take a bit of a miracle.
And should each of the long-time rehabbers do well, you have to take into account that they’re probably not going deep into a ballgame.
Yet there is a chance that a lengthy absence can be a plus, in the case that hitters, while well-tuned in August and September, will be looking at unfamiliar pitches, delivered by men who they either haven’t hit off of for a year or more, or have never faced at all. This represents one of those rare instances when all the scouting reports and video are available on the batsmen, but very little or nothing on the pitcher.
Some of these pitchers have been out of commission so long, that any data collected on them probably won’t mean much to the hitters that will face them. How could they possibly trust that a pitcher’s fast ball runs the same way, or that the bite on his curve is familiar enough to stay in the box on a tight pitch? For that matter, the release point might be different, arm angles varied, as formerly injured pitchers have made adjustments in order to compete once more at the major league level.
The plus/minus on this subject is something that makes fans, coaches, and these days, the media, as-nervous-as-all-get-out. Why? Because there’s no way to measure a potential performance.
Hardly any decisions from the front office or the dugout seem to be made without consulting a thick textbook of data. And just watch how all us writers jump on the fence regarding this issue, if anyone dares write about it at all. Data-data-stat-stat-stat, it’s the Morse Code of modern baseball.
Don’t believe it? (I defy you to find an ESPN preview, for instance, that has more than one paragraph in a row without reference to a stat.)
But figuring out a line, so to speak, on pitchers having instantaneous success on comebacks, that’s “out on a limb” stuff.
Puts most of the pressure on the pitcher taking the major league re-test, but a lot of tension runs through the coaching staff as well. How’s his stuff? Did he just twinge? Crimanee, he’s huffing and puffing already. He seems okay, but I think he was rolling his eyes. Wake up the dead in the pen, I don’t care if it is the second inning.
Of course, if the initial comeback appearances are anything less than stellar, then the less-educated or negative fan believes he was rushed back too soon. Or: “He’s washed up. I told you so.”
So now we get to the names, some of them, anyway.
No … check that. We don’t need that long list to see what it’s really going to be like for these pitchers whose arrivals are probably more anxiously awaited than Santa Claus to a seven-year-old.
Mr. Mulder is going to illustrate the unknown variables, when he gets a start against the Phillies. Because La Russa might be able to hand-pick the initial appearance, but even he knows it’s inevitable that Mulder (or any one the rehabbers getting within throwing distance, so to speak), are just going to have to find out if they still got it, and we mean, really still got it.
Scary stuff, for those about to return to the battlefield where the foes are less than 70 feet away. And pretty nerve-racking for the rest of us, too.
So Cardinal Nation, don’t be too harsh, don’t get too sad, don’t get overly happy. And don’t believe not a one of us writers, bloggers, whatnots, about how Mr. Mulder will do, or won’t do. Because you can’t reduce his imminent situation to probabilities, except for the obvious, that it won’t be easy for him.
This will just have to be one of those tension-filled games that defy predictability. In other words, at least for the first few innings, a fun game to watch, and an example of why baseball fans have to watch.
We know you’ll do your best, Mr. Mulder. Go for it!
Mark Mulder will get a shot at getting back into the St. Louis Cardinals’ starting rotation on Wednesday against the Philadelphia Phillies. The probable Phillies
Mitchell Boggs will head back to Triple-A Memphis to make room for Cesar Izturis, who is coming off the DL list today. La Russa is not in any hurry to rush Izturis back into the lineup, but Izturis says his hamstring feels fine.
Joe Mather has been activated from Memphis, filling a roster spot opened up by Brian Barton, who has gone on the 15-day DL with a right wrist injury. Mather will start today in left field.