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Cardinals @ Pirates, May 11

Chris Carpenter could return to the Cardinals as soon as next week. And the team desperately needs him.

Without their ace, the Birds hurlers seem to be rudderless. Not only are they not stepping up when the going gets tough, they are playing down to the level of the competition.

They were thoroughly thrashed Tuesday by the reeling Pittsburgh Pirates who hadn't won a game in their last eight tries. Starter Todd Wellemeyer fell apart in the second inning, failing to get the pitcher out with runners on base and then totally losing his composure to allow four runs that shouldn't have dented the plate. When it was all over, the Cardinals lost 7-1.

Wellemeyer could make it through five innings, hurling 4 1/3 while surrendering nine hits and seven runs. Meanwhile, the offense couldn't solve Zach Duke who shut the Cardinals down for eight innings except for a solo homer by Albert Pujols in the first inning.

Things weren't only rough for the Cardinals on the score sheet. Ryan Ludwick strained a hamstring in the outfield while trying to avoid a collision with rookie Shane Robinson. And Yadier Molina was removed from the game after being hit on the elbow by a pitch from Duke.

The latter problem was a continuation of shenanigans that took place last week when the Pirates visited Busch Stadium and Albert Pujols and Ludwick were hit by pitches with no recourse. Wellemeyer was warned for throwing behind a Pittsburgh batter he did not actually hit and Brad Thompson plunked one later. But the Cardinals pitchers let the opposition take far too many liberties with their batsmen.

When Pujols was plunked last week in a game that Wellemeyer pitched, the Cardinals starter should have made a beeline to Pujols in the dugout and asked two questions: 1) who do you want me to hit? and 2) where do you want me to hit them?

I'm not trying to be a hard head. But maybe the other side wouldn't injure the Cardinals players if they feared their batters may get the same treatment. The idea is to get the opponents batters to urge their pitchers to cut it out so they don't get killed. When you throw the ball behind the batter, that doesn't really bother them too much.

Cardinals Star of the Game: Thompson took care of business in an otherwise forgettable night.

Lowlight: Khalil was 0-for-4 to fall to .225 for the season.