ST. LOUIS -- Adam Wainwright had heard Rafael Furcal say it before: If Furcal isn't getting hits, neither will the Cardinals' opponent.
"He just brings a whole dynamic out there that's tough to match," Wainwright said on Wednesday night after Furcal's defense had helped Wainwright earn his 11th win.
"We knew he was hurting a little bit, but the great thing about Raffy is even when he's not hitting well, even when he's not feeling physically great, he's still busting his tail out there to try and take away hits from that other team. I think he really digs that. As pitchers, we love that."
While Furcal battled back stiffness for much of late July and into August, the 34-year-old shortstop's defense rarely faltered. The pain limited Furcal's ability to swing and his range at short. It also caused him to miss five games while he hit .173 from July 21 to Aug. 11.
Furcal received an epidural, an anti-inflammatory injection, to alleviate the stiffness in his back on Aug. 8. Since then, Furcal's defense has continued to impress, but recently he seems to have fallen into a groove at the plate, as well.
Furcal has hit safely in three straight games entering Thursday, collecting two triples, a double and two RBIs while batting out of the eight-spot in the order. While it took time for the positive effects of the epidural to kick in, Furcal said he's been feeling stronger.
"I didn't like the shot, but you have to take it," Furcal said. "You have to take it to make you feel better so you can feel strong and try to help your team.
"Sometimes it was feeling a little weary at the start, but I kept working out with the trainer, doing my exercises, keep doing the same thing and try to get it strong."
It's been a relief for both Furcal and Cardinals manager Mike Matheny that his shortstop is finally healthy and doesn't have to fight through pain each day.
"Hopefully the treatment that's been going on will be something that will let him keep feeling the way he has right now," Matheny said. "And hopefully the confidence that he has right now at the plate will be something he can carry the rest of the way."
Kelly unfazed by transition to Cards bullpen
ST. LOUIS -- Their lockers side-by-side in the Cardinals' clubhouse, Marc Rzepczynski took a seat in front of his as Joe Kelly sat next to him talking about his impending transition from starter to reliever. When the conversation paused, Rzepczynski interrupted.
"Don't let him fool you," the lefty reliever said, "into thinking he can't do it."
Few would know better than Rzepczynski, who has seen Kelly pitch in relief before. The two were teammates for one year at the University of California-Riverside, with Kelly starring as the team's freshman closer while Rzepczynski anchored the rotation.
Rzepczynski has since been converted into a reliever. And, at least for the remainder of this season, Kelly is set to join him in the 'pen. After making 12 starts for St. Louis, Kelly learned on Wednesday that his assignment would be changing upon the weekend return of Jaime Garcia.
"It's way more preferable, obviously, than going to the Minors," Kelly said on Thursday. "I'd rather get meaningful innings up here and help the team toward a playoff push than go down there and be down in less than a month. I'm glad I'm staying here, and I know I can help the team out."
He won't be available out of the 'pen until Saturday, at the earliest, but Kelly's routine is already changing. He did not throw a side session on Thursday, which would have been his day to do so had he still been in the rotation.
Some have suggested that Kelly might come out throwing harder in relief than he did as a starter since the appearances will be briefer. Asked about the possibility, Kelly said that while his fastball might have some added zip, it won't be intentional.
"I'm going to go out there and just pitch," Kelly said. "I'll just think of it as starting, so I don't overthrow or fall behind hitters. You get more adrenaline coming out of the bullpen for one inning, even if you try not to. But I don't want to go out there and expect to throw 100 [mph]. I just want to stick with throwing strikes. There will be velocity there, but I'm not going to go out there and focus on that."
New to 'pen, Mujica giving Cards just what they need
ST. LOUIS -- When Edward Mujica arrived in St. Louis in a trade from Miami a little more than two weeks ago, his new 'pen-mates Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte gave him the rundown of the situation he was entering.
Bridging the gap from the Cardinals' starters to the back end of the bullpen had proven adventurous at times this season. Boggs had solidified himself as St. Louis' setup man, and the ninth inning and has been Motte's duty. What the Cards needed was a reliable arm to throw the in the sixth or seventh, and Boggs and Motte made it clear to Mujica that they hoped he'd be the guy for the job.
Mujica has delivered. In seven games with the Cardinals, the 28-year-old right-hander has thrown the seventh inning in each appearance and has yet to allow a run.
"If he can go out there and do that, get us deep into the ballgame, that's what it's all about, cutting down the outs until the end of the ballgame," said Motte.
On Wednesday, things went just as a Motte and Boggs had drawn up upon Mujica's arrival, as the three combined for three scoreless innings without a hit in St. Louis' 5-2 win over Arizona.
That's a sequence the Cardinals hope can happen each night the bullpen is called on. And while Mujica said he's comfortable in his middle-inning role, he added that he warms up and prepares just the same whenever the bullpen phone rings for him.
"I feel good right now," Mujica said. "They're using me in pretty good situations, and I'm just trying to go out there and go 100 percent every day."
Yadier Molina was out of the Cardinals' lineup for a second straight day on Thursday, as the catcher continued to deal with middle back tightness. Manager Mike Matheny described Molina as a little improved since Wednesday. Molina will be reevaluated on Friday, after which his status for the team's upcoming series against Pittsburgh will be better known.
Asked about the potential to utilize Monday's off-day to shuffle his rotation, Matheny said the intention is to keep the rotation order as is. That means not fiddling with the schedules of particular pitchers in order to ensure that they start games against fellow contending teams.
For instance, Adam Wainwright is not scheduled to pitch any of the games against the Pirates at home this weekend or in Pittsburgh the following weekend. He does, however, line up to start against the Reds after his next outing, which will come at home against Houston.
The Pirates have lined up their rotation so that James McDonald (10-5, 3.77 ERA), Erik Bedard (7-12, 4.56 ERA) and Jeff Karstens (4-3, 3.91 ERA) will start the three weekend games at Busch Stadium.
Cardinals president Bill DeWitt, general manager John Mozeliak and Matheny are among the members of the organization who will travel to Joplin, Mo., on Monday to help construct five homes in conjunction with the Governor's Joplin Challenge and Habitat for Humanity. The city of Joplin is still recovering after being devastated by a tornado in May 2011.
It was a small step, but a step nonetheless for Chris Carpenter, as he threw a light long toss session on Thursday. It marked the first time the right-hander has thrown since undergoing July 19 neurogenic thoracic outlet surgery. Carpenter has already been ruled out for the rest of the 2012 season.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.