Manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan can typically finish each other's sentences. But La Russa took minor exception Sunday to Duncan's recent characterization of five defined front-runners for the starting rotation with free-agent import Ryan Franklin as an extra.Narveson, Thompson, and Franklin are all considered as sleeper picks for the rotation.
Duncan cited ace Chris Carpenter, Kip Wells, Adam Wainwright, Anthony Reyes and Braden Looper as the "five guys that will get the priority."
La Russa said Sunday at Roger Dean Stadium, "Had I been asked that question before Dave, I would have said we have Carp and we have six or seven guys for four spots."
La Russa is typically reluctant to handicap competition this early in camp and is sensitive to the rotation since Wainwright and Looper have yet to make a major league start.
"He wanted to say it, and if you stop and think about the sense in that ... I think it's sending the right message to Anthony Reyes, to Braden Looper, to Adam Wainwright," La Russa said. "I think what he's saying is, 'You guys have the best shot to be in the five.'"
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Mark Mulder believes that all his problems can be traced to the 2004 season with the Oakland Athletics.
"I guess I could look back at the end of '04 as when things started to change," recalled Mulder, who cost the Cardinals three players — starting pitcher Dan Haren, reliever Kiko Calero and prized catching prospect Daric Barton.Mulder should be able to recover fully and become the Hall of Famer that I believe he should be.
"I can look at that June as when things started to change. I didn't think anything was wrong at the time. I thought things were different."
A stress fracture near his right hip abbreviated Mulder's 2003 season. He won 17 games in 2004 but endured a difficult second half, leading to rumors that he was pitching hurt. Mulder, however, says that he felt "completely normal" in 2004 and that any connection now is mere "second-guessing."
Mulder, 29, began a series of alterations to his delivery that prevented him from achieving consistency. By the time he landed on the disabled list for the first time last May, Mulder described himself as "slinging" the ball with an abbreviated arm action completely different from his form at the beginning of his final season in Oakland.
"I wasn't throwing correctly, but I never would have imagined needing surgery," said Mulder, who avoided surgery for his first seven professional seasons. "My entire career has been about 'whatever I'm feeling, I'll get over it.' But when a couple surgeons tell you that you need surgery, it's a weird feeling. You don't know what to expect."
Mulder improvised to a 16-8 record and 3.64 ERA in 2005 as rival scouts increasingly speculated he was pitching hurt. Mulder denied those suggestions and won five of his first six decisions last season before a jagged start against the San Diego Padres in late May began an irreversible spiral.
"It didn't necessarily hurt to pitch. It felt weak," Mulder said.
Disabled from June 22 to Aug. 22, Mulder returned from a three-game rehab to make two abortive starts in which he allowed 14 earned runs in 4 2/3 total innings. He allowed the New York Mets nine earned runs in three innings in his first start.