Cardinals lefty Mark Mulder nosed his way toward the target of 90 pitches but didn't have the finished-product control Friday in a rehab start with Class AA Springfield.
Mulder, who is on the trek back from a second shoulder operation in as many seasons, needed 84 pitches to get through five innings against the Tulsa Drillers, a Colorado affiliate. Of those 84 pitches, just 49 were strikes, and the lefty walked four batters against five strikeouts. Tulsa reached him for three runs in the first inning — when three of the first four hitters he faced walked — and a bases-empty homer in the fifth. The start was Mulder's third on a rehab assignment that can, by rule, last 30 days.
Shortstop Cesar Izturis, who was hit near the right elbow by a pitch on Tuesday, took regular batting practice for the first time and, as far as his return to duty, he said, "I think we're almost there."
Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, one of the best in the league when it comes to curtailing base-stealers, has been taken for eight bases on 10 attempts, which is considerably short of his usual numbers. "There have been times when we haven't defended it as well; it's not on (Molina)," manager Tony La Russa said. "Sometimes to defend the running game, you slow it down, and we've kept our pace going (for the good of the pitcher). And somebody sneaked a steal or two."
Baseball's leader in steals, Michael Bourn, is in town with Houston. The speedy center fielder has 13 steals in 13 attempts, and he could return from a groin injury today to test Molina's arm — and the Cardinals pitchers.
"We defend it aggressively," La Russa said. "But sometimes it's more important for us to focus on the hitter."
CENTRAL, NOT VITAL
The three games here with Houston will be followed by three with Cincinnati and, after an off day, three with Chicago. This will be the longest home stand of the season for the Cardinals.
All the games will be against Central Division rivals, but La Russa does not attach extra importance to them — just yet.
"The reality is that you've got to accumulate wins over six months," La Russa said. "So what's the difference between these nine at home vs. whether the West was here or the East? It's nine chances to get wins. When you get to the last couple of months, then I think the divisional play has more significance.
"Right now, it's just three, three-game series."
La Russa, discussing whether it was harder being a manager or being a defense counsel, which he also is trained to do, said, "It's not hard to be a manager when you've got good players. And it's probably not too hard being a defense lawyer — if you've got a really good client."