ST. LOUIS -- Three years ago, Mark Mulder was one of baseball's best pitchers. Two shoulder operations later, he's just happy to be back on the mound.
The St. Louis Cardinals' 30-year-old left-hander made his first career relief appearance in his season debut Monday night, working a scoreless ninth inning in a 7-1 victory over the New York Mets. He gave up two hits before retiring Jose Reyes on a game-ending flyout.
"Of course I want to be starting, but right now I could care less," Mulder said. "It's just a relief to be out there and feeling good about what you're doing."
Mulder had been projected to return to the rotation before problems with a first rehab assignment forced the team to back off. He altered his delivery during his second rehab stint and now throws from more of a three-quarters angle instead of over the top.
Manager Tony La Russa said it's too soon to say how he'll be able to use Mulder, although he prefers using the left-hander at the start of the inning.
"I like to keep it simple and just try and concentrate on the Mets series and see when he's available again and how we can use him," La Russa said. "I just don't think we're allowed to get long-term on that stuff."
Mulder wasn't certain how his arm would adapt to life in the bullpen, figuring he'd find out Tuesday morning. He didn't worry about diminished velocity since the surgeries, either, although MLB.com had several of his fastballs clocked at 92 mph.
"This whole process has been up and down and I'm not going to look ahead to my next outing, because what's the point?" Mulder said. "I felt I did a good job, and that's all I care about."
Mulder won 88 games from 2001-05, capped by a 16-win season in his first year with the Cardinals. But he was 6-7 with a 7.14 ERA in 2006 and 0-3 with a 12.27 ERA in three awful late-season starts in 2007 before undergoing a second surgery.
Mulder was activated from the 15-day disabled list Friday and warmed up Sunday, but wasn't used in a victory over the Royals. He said he was more anxious than nervous.
"When you feel better about what you're doing and how your arm feels, you're going to feel better about yourself and what you're going to do out there," Mulder said. "It's the feel."
Mulder warmed up twice Monday, but La Russa opted for Ron Villone against the top of the Mets' order in the eighth. Mulder received a nice ovation when pinch-hitter Fernando Tatis grounded out for the first out in the ninth.
"I was in here cheering him on, and it's great to see," starting pitcher Kyle Lohse said. "He looked good. He looked real good."