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Mulder, Sanders, deadline updates

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  • Mulder, Sanders, deadline updates

    Neck spasms delay Mulder's appearance
    By Joe Strauss
    Of the Post-Dispatch

    WASHINGTON - What began as neck spasms less than 10 minutes before the series opener against the Washington Nationals on Friday night remained enough of a problem Saturday to force starting pitcher Mark Mulder to miss his scheduled start.

    Manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan decided early Saturday morning to start Jason Marquis on abbreviated rest, with Mulder pushed to Sunday's series finale.

    "I was just sitting there at my locker, and it hit me," Mulder said Saturday. "I couldn't turn my head to either side. I was ready to go out for the anthem, but they told me to get back up here."

    Mulder never made it to the dugout. He spent all of the Cardinals' 4-1 loss Friday receiving treatment and still wore an ice pack Saturday morning.

    "It's a lot better today than it was last night, but I still have limited movement," Mulder said, demonstrating how he could move his head to the left and down but not to the right, a serious handicap for a lefthanded pitcher.

    Mulder's scratch from the lineup marked the first time this season a Cardinals starting pitcher has missed a scheduled turn because of injury. La Russa opened the season with a four-man rotation while waiting for Matt Morris to rehab from shoulder surgery in December. Earlier this month, the rotation pitched on an extra day's rest when Anthony Reyes received a spot start against the Milwaukee Brewers.

    The team medical report listed Mulder's problem as "cervical and thoracic spasms." La Russa suggested Brad Thompson could take the mound Sunday should Mulder not be able to go.

    "The doctor said it could have been something as simple as sleeping wrong," Mulder said.

    The Cardinals' schedule in September allows four off-days, the first coming Thursday before a three-game series against the Houston Astros. La Russa remains noncommittal about his plans for the rotation but conceded that it's possible he will keep Chris Carpenter on a five-day turn while shifting other starters around him. The club's big division lead allows La Russa and Duncan the luxury, barring injury, of setting their playoff alignment well in advance.

    More lineup intrigue

    La Russa crafted his 111th lineup in 130 games Saturday when he had catcher Yadier Molina batting cleanup for the second time this season. Left fielder So Taguchi hit fifth for the second time, too.

    The Cardinals have used 13 players in the No. 5 slot, compared to nine last season.

    Making his fourth start in right field, John Rodriguez batted sixth for the fifth time. Third baseman Abraham Nunez batted eighth for only the third time in 72 starts. Hector Luna, who had his seventh start at second base, batted seventh for the seventh time.

    La Russa employed 126 lineups last season.

    Sanders runs again

    Head trainer Barry Weinberg estimates left fielder Reggie Sanders will return "in a couple of weeks" after resuming running Friday, six days after aborting a running program in St. Louis.

    Sanders, disabled since July 16 because of a fractured right fibula suffered in the Cardinals' first game after the All-Star break, reported no pain Saturday after a second day of exercises. He graduated from running in a swimming pool during the team's four-day stay in Pittsburgh.

    "It's getting there, definitely," Sanders said. "The first time I tried it, there was a lot of pain, and I had to shut it down. Now, there's nothing. It's good."

    La Russa had hoped that Sanders could be activated when rosters expand Thursday, but Weinberg and Sanders offered a more conservative timetable. Sanders has been swinging a bat for two weeks but must first perform more stressful stop-and-go exercises to test the fracture on the outside of his right leg just above the ankle.

    A backward series

    Friday's defeat bucked a season-long trend in which the Cardinals dominated the first game of series. The Cardinals are 34 games over .500. They are 20 games over .500 in series openers (31-11). Friday marked just the fourth time since the All-Star break the Cardinals had dropped a series opener.

    The Cardinals have lost consecutive openers twice this season: May 13 against the Mets at New York and May 17 against the Phillies at Philadelphia, and July 29 against the Dodgers in at Los Angeles and Aug. 1 at home against the Florida Marlins.

    The Cardinals are 20-21 in series finales.

    Still looking

    Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty hasn't discounted further trading before playoff eligibility is set Wednesday.

    The Cardinals remain interested in outfield help and, with third baseman Scott Rolen sidelined for the remainder of the season after shoulder surgery, also would welcome additional infield depth.

    A glut of waiver claims and a crush of teams still involved in wild-card chases have slowed player movement to a trickle this summer.

    "I can't remember a time when there's been so little movement before and after the (July 31) nonwaiver deadline," Jocketty said Friday. "It's been very slow. Right now, I don't anticipate it opening up."

    The Texas Rangers, San Francisco Giants and Baltimore Orioles are among the potential trading partners that have tumbled from contention in the past month. Rangers outfielder David Dellucci was among those reportedly pulled off waivers after wild-card contender Cleveland placed a claim on him earlier this month.

    Reporter Joe Strauss
    E-mail: [email protected]
    Phone: 314-340-8371

    "Can't buy what I want because it's free...
    Can't buy what I want because it's free..."
    -- Pearl Jam, from the single Corduroy