PHILADELPHIA – St. Louis Cardinals fans expecting a triumphant return by starting pitcher Mark Mulder on Wednesday in Philadelphia didn’t exactly get what they wanted. How fitting it would have been to have the theme from Welcome Back Kotter blaring on the PA during his warm up tosses, and maybe again while walking back to the dugout after a successful, quality start.

No need for the music, and even if it had been cued on the PA announcer’s playlist, the song wouldn’t have made it past its introduction.

Hope no doubt filled Cardinals fans, coaches, and front office members as the one-time ace took the mound. But 16 pitches, two walks, one strikeout and one sore shoulder later, Mulder was pulled. The sight left a sour taste in the mouths of everyone wearing the ‘birds on the bat’ and left management wondering what would be next.

“He’s just not getting over the hump,” General Manager John Mozeliak said. “Typically, I have a very optimistic tone. But in this case, it’s hard to envision this getting to a point where it’s going to work for us or for him.”

While Mulder is expected to return to the disabled list, it is unclear whether or not he will ever return to the majors. But what might be lost in the whole situation is the emergency performance made by Brad Thompson.

Thompson entered the game unexpectedly early and went 4.1 innings giving up two runs on five hits and three walks. Perhaps the Cardinals should consider him a temporary replacement. If not, there’s always the option of bringing Mitchell Boggs back up to the big leagues. Boggs not an option? Aaron Miles does have the best ERA on the staff.

On the other hand, with both Chicago and Milwaukee making moves this week to bolster their rotations, is it time for the Cardinals to join the trading game? For the first time in years, Tony La Russa has expressed concern about the players he has been given and has hinted at the idea of wanting Mozeliak to make a move.

“Since you play the year you’re playing and you don’t take [anything] for granted, the goal should be to improve your chance to win right now,” said La Russa. “Not crazy, not for the fans to think you’re doing something, [not] stupid, but I mean legitimately, use every resource you can to figure, is there a way to improve the club’s chance?

“This is what, July 9? And those guys [Sabathia and Harden] are here now. You’re looking at help in August [with the return of Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter]. That’s a big edge to have the help. I don’t get comforted by the fact that we may have guys coming back later.”

Is it time to go after A.J. Burnett? The Cubs didn’t try too hard to pick him up after all talks pointed his way. The irony would be great for Redbird fans if the Cardinals picked up Burnett just in time to either knock the Cubs out of the top spot, or to eliminate them from a championship run in what is supposed to be ”Next Year” for the Northsiders. If nothing else, perhaps trade talks will add a spark to the Cards rotation in the second half. If no moves are made, maybe the mound can be moved to center field. Rick Ankiel obviously has no problems throwing strikes from 300-plus feet.

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