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08/09/08 4:00 PM ET

Cards see Wainwright as late-relief help

Club preparing rehabbing starter for role shift upon return

CHICAGO -- A day after Adam Wainwright's rocky first Minor League rehabilitation start, the Cardinals publicly acknowledged that Wainwright is expected to pitch in late-inning relief when he returns to the active Major League roster.

"That's what we're preparing him for," pitching coach Dave Duncan said on Saturday afternoon.

It's still not set in stone. However, with little time left in the regular season, the balance tilts toward getting Wainwright back quickly. An obvious additional factor is that the Cardinals have had trouble closing out wins this year.

"If you look at how soon he would be able to be in the rotation, there is some sense to getting him in the bullpen sooner," manager Tony La Russa said.

Wainwright threw 27 pitches for Triple-A Memphis on Friday night, and he'll pitch again on Monday. The first game of his return from a right middle finger injury did not yield good results, and there was little mitigating the numbers. Wainwright simply wasn't that sharp. He pitched two-thirds of an inning, allowing three runs, a walk and four hits -- including a home run. He struck out one.

"He was just about how I expected him to be," Duncan said. "I told [Memphis pitching coach Blaise Ilsley] before he pitched that he would probably not be very effective. It's only the second time he's faced hitters. He's going to have to get his feet on the ground."

Even so, the Cards hope that Wainwright will come back quickly. Following his Monday game, it's conceivable that his next appearance could be with the Cardinals.

"I think he'll be a lot better next time out," Duncan said, "and then the time after that, he should be improved from that. We'll see how he is. ... If we think that he's progressed to the point where he could pitch up here, we'd probably bring him up here and pitch him the middle a couple of times. Get him five or six total appearances, and hopefully he'd be where we want him to be."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.