ST. LOUIS -- Mark Mulder's first start in more than a year had the profile of a pitcher reining in his repertoire during spring training.
"Not what I was hoping for," Mulder said.
After overseeing the left-hander's latest bullpen session and a crisp pregame warmup, pitching coach Dave Duncan allowed himself to get excited. He said Mulder was hurt a bit by seeing-eye hits, and despite the bottom line gave him a positive review.
"I probably expected more than I should have," Duncan said. "He's discouraged because he knows what our situation is and he didn't do anything to help us.
"But he should not be discouraged. I expect he'll be better next time."
The left-hander who won 16 games in 2005 -- but was 6-7 with a 7.14 ERA in an injury-plagued 2006 -- lasted four innings and gave up six runs on eight hits. The Cardinals had hoped he would fortify the rotation in the final month, but instead dropped two games behind the first-place Cubs in the NL Central and also failed in a chance to go two games above .500 for the first time all season.
Mulder needed only nine pitches to get out of the first inning before running into trouble.
"I'm here to win a ballgame, and tonight was very disappointing because of the way I felt when the game started," Mulder said. "I was walking off after the first feeling great."
Ronny Paulino was 2-for-4 with a three-run homer, Jack Wilson went 3-for-4 with a three-run double and Adam LaRoche was 2-for-4 with a home run for the Pirates, who won for only the second time in eight games. Tony Armas (3-5) worked six innings and limited St. Louis to two runs and five hits.
Entering the game, the Pirates were tied for the major league lead in runs since Aug. 1. Manager Jim Tracy said his offense is clicking against most pitchers.
"They're not getting themselves out, they're not missing balls over the middle of the plate," Tracy said. "That's how you become a good offensive club."
Rick Ankiel hit a two-run homer for the Cardinals, his seventh in 75 at-bats. It gave him 22 RBI in 22 games since the former pitcher returned to the major leagues as an outfielder on Aug. 9.
Mulder (0-1) made his last 2006 start on Aug. 29 and underwent rotator cuff surgery in September, missing the Cardinals' improbable World Series run. He had good success in four rehab starts despite fluctuating velocity that prompted him to ask that the radar gun be turned off for his final tuneup at Triple-A Memphis.
Pitch speeds were displayed on the Busch Stadium scoreboard for the first two hitters, then not again. Of Mulder's 59 pitches, 39 were strikes, and he struggled to find the plate mainly at the start of the fourth, when he opened with six consecutive balls.
Wilson was impressed, although he thought Mulder's two-seam fastball didn't have as much zip as it used to when he was with Oakland. Scouting reports had Mulder topping out at 86-87 mph, but the Pirates had him as fast as 92 mph on Wednesday.
"His velocity was real nice," Wilson said. "Once that two-seamer comes back, which I'm sure it will, he'll be back to his old self."
Mulder's biggest problem was hittable pitches. The Pirates reached him for three runs and four hits in the second, then three runs on three hits and a walk in the fourth.
"I probably liked him better than he liked himself," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "I think he was upset, but I saw quite a few things that I liked."
Armas has worked six innings in four of seven starts since returning to the Pirates' rotation on Aug. 1. But he was 0-2 while allowing 18 earned runs in 18 innings in his previous four outings.
Paulino also singled and is 8-for-11 in the first three games of a four-game series with two doubles, a home run and five RBI. In his past five games against St. Louis pitching he is 12-for-21 with three home runs and 10 RBI.
- The start was delayed 49 minutes by rain.
- Wilson was 2-for-2 against Mulder after entering the game 3-for-17 against the left-hander.
- LaRoche is batting .397 (25-for-63) in his past 16 road games.
- Armas has allowed seven home runs in his past seven starts.
- Wilson is 9-for-12 in the series and is batting .405 (34-for-84) with four home runs and 18 RBI since Aug. 1.