ST. LOUIS (AP) -Mark Mulder exited his latest bullpen session on Friday optimistic he can help the St. Louis Cardinals' makeshift pitching staff at some point this season.
``Today was by far the best I've thrown,'' Mulder said after throwing 45-50 fastballs several hours before the Cardinals played the San Francisco Giants. ``Where that is on a scale, I don't know, but it's definitely a lot, lot, lot better.''
The left-hander is rehabbing from rotator cuff surgery last September and has been impatient at times with the laborious nature of his comeback. A month ago, he said he wouldn't be surprised if he didn't pitch competitively again until next year.
``I didn't see him, but he was pleased today,'' manager Tony La Russa said Friday. ``It's a big difference from spring training. He's definitely making progress.''
There's still no timetable for his return, but the next stage could begin after he's scheduled to join the team in Miami for a series against the Marlins that begins on July 16.
Mulder, a 16-game winner with St. Louis in 2005 who slumped to a 6-7 with a 7.14 ERA in an injury-plagued '06, said he's counting on returning at some point this year.
``I would definitely hope so, and we'll see how it goes,'' Mulder said. ``I guess I'm kind of planning on it.''
Meanwhile, Chris Carpenter is scheduled to make his second rehab start on Sunday coming off surgery in May to remove bone chips from his elbow, and could return to the rotation soon after the All-Star break. He may need as few as two more rehab starts.
``He goes out there, you take a look at him,'' La Russa said. ``When he's ready, he's ready. Nobody knows now.''

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