The Inside Pitch with Ray Mileur

 This weekend, as the San Francisco Giants make their only appearance at Busch Stadium this season, should mark the return of C Yadier Molina and RF Larry Walker, both of whom have been out a month or more with injuries. Molina, who suffered a broken bone in his hand when hit by a pitch on July 7, might even catch on Thursday.'
   Walker, who has had periodic bouts with a herniated disc in his neck, wanted a couple of batting practice sessions before he returned, but he was so good on Tuesday that it shouldn't take much more.
   LF Reggie Sanders is beginning to jog after suffering a broken bone in his right leg on July 15. He might be 2 1/2 to three weeks away.
   The magic number for clinching the division is sinking into the low 30s and the Cardinals are plotting the potential makeup of their playoff roster. General manager Walt Jocketty said that if the Cardinals make the playoffs, the club probably would go with 11 pitchers, rather than the 12 they have featured most of the season.
   That could mean that rookie RHP Brad Thompson might be optioned to Triple-A Memphis -- at least a paper option -- before the Aug. 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
   Jocketty said it was possible that rookie RHP Anthony Reyes, impressive in his big-league debut last week, would get consideration for a possible postseason berth.

   --Anybody who witnessed OF So Taguchi's first spring training with the Cardinals in 2002 and wondered if he was even using a bat, let alone having one sawed off in his hands, could not have forecast that Taguchi ever would be a .300 hitter this late in a major league season. 

   But Taguchi not only reached that magic figure, he soared past it Tuesday night in a four-hit, three-double, three-RBI performance that was the fulcrum for an 8-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Cardinals stretched their lead over second-place Houston to 11 games in the National League Central Division.

   Taguchi, riding a career-high nine-game hitting streak in which he has batted .500 (16-for-32), singled and scored in the first, doubled and scored in the third, doubled to drive in a run in the sixth and doubled and drove in two more runs in the seventh to help RHP Jeff Suppan become the fourth 12-game winner on the Cardinals' staff this season.

   The explosion by Taguchi -- he tied his career high in hits and runs batted in for a game -- lifted his average to .303 and his average with runners in scoring position to a gaudy .424.

   "We were kind of kidding at first," said manager Tony La Russa. "But Larry (injured outfielder Larry Walker) is going to have to play real well to get him out of that lineup.

   "He's really a tough out right now and has been for a couple of years. We said last year that it looked like if he played more, he would do more. He's playing more and he's doing more."

   Taguchi had 179 at-bats last year when hit .291, but already has 264 at-bats this year. For perspective, his total of 39 RBIs is one fewer than Walker and 11 more than 3B Scott Rolen, who also is injured.

   La Russa says he thinks Taguchi at 36, might be an everyday player.

   "Playing like he is, he deserves a chance at it," La Russa said.

   --The Cardinals and right-hander Jason Marquis have had an almost implausible two-month stretch of ecstasy and agony. In a span beginning on June 15 and continuing to Sunday, the Cardinals were 32-11 in games that Marquis did not start. But in the 11 that he started, they were 1-10.

   Their 10th loss in his 11 games and Marquis' eighth in that time came on Friday (Aug. 12) in Chicago when Marquis pitched well but lost 4-1 to the Cubs.

   In the 11-game stretch, he allowed three or fewer earned runs seven times, yet had just the one win and now a five-game losing streak.

   "You don't see wins. Obviously it toys with your mind," said Marquis, a 15-game winner last year but 9-11 this year.

   Pitching coach Dave Duncan has suggested Marquis try to forget the past and embark on new 10-game season.

   But it is hard for Marquis and everybody else to forget. "He's had some really good starts and got nothing to show for it," Duncan said. "Sometimes for a pitcher, that's depressing. It certainly doesn't do anything to build your confidence."

   Left-hander Mark Mulder, meanwhile, might well have confidence issues when he pitches in the daytime. At night, Mulder was 12-1 with a brilliant 2.14 ERA. In the daytime, after absorbing an 11-4 loss to the Cubs on Thursday (Aug. 11), he was 1-5 with a 7.57 ERA.

   After 112 consecutive starts by the Cardinals' five-man rotation, manager Tony La Russa changed up for the first time and started rookie right-hander Anthony Reyes, brought up from Triple-A Memphis for just one start.

   Reyes allowed just two hits and two runs -- Milwaukee shortstop Bill Hall hit a two-run homer -- in 6 1/3 innings as the Cardinals beat the Brewers 5-2 on Tuesday (Aug. 9).

   Reyes said he had talked to the veteran members of the rotation before his start. "They said don't do anything you wouldn't do down there (in Memphis). Just keep the same game," Reyes said.

   Former Cubs second baseman Mark Grudzielanek has played behind both Reyes and his good friend and former USC teammate Mark Prior, the Cubs' ace, and finds distinct similarities.

   "(Reyes) definitely has stuff as good. His fastball is as dominating as Prior's," Grudzielanek said.

   "Prior came in throwing 93-95. And (Reyes) has come in here throwing 93-95. He has great movement. I think if there's anything lacking right now, it's the control Mark Prior has on his off-speed pitches. Once he gets there, he can be one of the best pitchers."

   --RHP Jeff Suppan (12-8) fanned a season-high-tying seven and tied his season low for walks at none Tuesday. "He's doing what he did last year," manager Tony La Russa said of Suppan, who led the staff with 16 wins last season.

   --General manager Walt Jocketty said he didn't envision making any major move to shore up the club's roster for the last six-plus weeks other than welcoming back four disabled players -- C Yadier Molina, RF Larry Walker, LF Reggie Sanders and 3B Scott Rolen.

   "We've got four ball players on the disabled list who are far better than anybody we could acquire in a trade," Jocketty said. "Without them, we've been maintaining, but we're a much better team with them.

   "I still don't feel the urgency to do something. If something develops great. If it doesn't, I'm not concerned about it."

   --C Yadier Molina, out because of a broken hand since July 7, should return to duty on this homestand and Larry Walker, who had a terrific batting practice Tuesday, may make it back this week, too.

   "A couple more days of this (batting practice) and we'll see," said Walker, who has been out because of a herniated disc in his neck.  

   Sanders, who suffered a broken right fibula on July 15, has been cleared to start jogging after passing muster from an X-ray administered Tuesday night.

   As for 3B Scott Rolen and his inflamed left shoulder, general manager Jocketty said, "He's about the same. I don't think he's regressed. He's maybe progressed a little.  But I think there's still a realistic chance he can come back."  

   When his entire squad is assembled and some of his stellar players lately return to the bench, La Russa cracked, "I just hope Walker is better than (So) Taguchi or else I can't play him. And that Rolen is better than (Abraham) Nunez and Reggie is better than (John) Rodriguez."

   --RHP Anthony Reyes, sent back to Memphis after winning his big-league debut on Tuesday, fanned 15 in seven innings and didn't allow a run Sunday in his first start back in Class AAA.

   --RHP Chris Carpenter scored his ninth victory in succession, 17th overall and his sixth complete game on Saturday when he beat Chicago 5-2. Over his last 11 games, two of which have been no-decisions, he has given up only 11 earned runs and 48 hits in 92 2/3 innings. Carpenter is 10-0 against the NL Central with a 1.32 ERA this year.

   --RHP Matt Morris suffered the 5-4 loss Sunday. Since raising his record to 10-2 on July 4, Morris has won just two of his last seven starts, losing four of them, and has given up 57 hits, 26 earned runs and eight homers in his last 44 1/3 innings. He had allowed only six homers in his first 14 games. Morris, who had off-season shoulder surgery, doesn't seem to have the same zip and consistency lately.

   --C Mike Mahoney hit his first major league homer in his 95th at-bat when he solved RHP Mark Prior in the second inning Sunday.

   --1B Albert Pujols' two-run homer in the first inning Saturday pushed him into the National League RBI lead at 93. It also was his 100th run. Pujols is trying to become the first player to lead in the major leagues in runs for three straight seasons since Pete Rose in 1974-76.

   --2B Mark Grudzielanek, who was born in Milwaukee, entertained friends and family by driving in seven runs and getting five hits in the first two games of a series at Miller Park. Grudzielanek sat out the last game of the series.

   Grudzielanek, a $1 million bargain, is hitting .300 and also leading the league in fielding percentage, chances, double plays (88) and fewest errors (four).

   BY THE NUMBERS: .529 -- OF So Taguchi's batting average with the bases loaded (9-for-17).

   QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's got a lot to learn, but the potential is most definitely there." -- 2B Mark Grudzielanek, on rookie RHP Anthony Reyes.


   1. LHP Mark Mulder
   2. RHP Chris Carpenter
   3. RHP Jason Marquis
   4. RHP Jeff Suppan
   5. RHP Matt Morris

   RHP Jason Isringhausen (closer)
   LHP Ray King
   RHP Julian Tavarez
   RHP Al Reyes
   RHP Brad Thompson
   RHP Cal Eldred
   LHP Randy Flores

   1. SS David Eckstein
   2. 3B Abraham Nunez
   3. 1B Albert Pujols
   4. CF Jim Edmonds
   5. 2B Mark Grudzielanek
   6. RF So Taguchi
   7. LF John Rodriguez
   8. C Einar Diaz

   C Mike Mahoney
   INF Hector Luna
   3B Scott Seabol
   OF Skip Schumaker
   INF/OF John Mabry
   RF Larry Walker, neck, 15-day DL.
   3B Scott Rolen, inflamed rotator cuff, 15-day DL.
   C Yadier Molina, fractured left pinky finger, 15-day DL.
   LF Reggie Sanders, hairline fracture in left tibia, 15-day DL.

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