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Notes: Rotation remains in flux

Notes: Rotation remains in flux

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NEW YORK -- There's no doubt that the Cardinals rotation is in a state of flux. The absence of ace Chris Carpenter has stolen more from the team than just a sterling start once every five days -- it's robbed it of any sort of consistency on the mound.

That's created a free-for-all of sorts in the St. Louis rotation. And, according to manager Tony La Russa, may the best five arms win.

"It's a competition, not an audition," La Russa said. "You're competing to be one of the five best."

Right now, Brad Thompson is winning. The 25-year-old, owner of just one career start heading into the season, has won a slot in the rotation -- at least for now. Thompson will start on Sunday, with fellow starter Kip Wells moving to the bullpen.

"[Tuesday] was perfect prep," La Russa said of Thompson's relief cameo, in which he worked 1 1/3 innings to pick up his sixth victory. "A nice little workout, he got a win. He can rest two days, then go get 'em."

Of course, meshing with La Russa's recent style, there's no guarantees that Thompson will start again after Friday. He'll still have to contend with the others, an ever-growing group that may soon include the injured Braden Looper and newfound farmhand Tomo Ohka. Looper could potentially be ready to come off the disabled list for a start on Sunday, whereas the Cards must make a decision by Friday on whether or not they'll extend Ohka's Minor League contract to a Major League one.

Yet La Russa's decision had more to do with his desire to send Wells to the bullpen than to keep Thompson in the rotation. The skipper had wanted to bump Wells to a relief role for some time, but injuries had since forced his hand. Now, with the acquisition of a steady Mike Maroth every five days, he again has the luxury to pit the hard-throwing Wells in a late-inning role.

It's not where La Russa envisions Wells ending up, but it's where he envisions him at least for now -- and where he hopes he'll flourish.

"I think he's got the stuff and mind-set of a starter," La Russa said of Wells. "He's capable -- but who knows?"

Spiezio hospitalized: Infielder Scott Spiezio was hospitalized on Wednesday with an infection in his left index finger. He was receiving antibiotics intravenously, and will be re-evaluated on Thursday.

Spiezio had started the previous four games and was batting .279 with three home runs for the season.

Third baseman Scott Rolen was able to pick up Spiezio's slack, however, back in the starting lineup and batting fifth after a two-day hiatus with a bruised left foot.

Injuries aplenty: The banged-up 'Birds are finally getting better.

La Russa expects to activate injured catcher Yadier Molina before Thursday's series finale in New York. Molina had been sidelined since May with a fractured left wrist, but is now healed enough to play whenever La Russa sees fit.

Shortstop David Eckstein remains on schedule to come off the disabled list when he's eligible on Friday. Along with Molina and Rolen, Eckstein would give the Cards an entire healthy third of their lineup that they didn't have at last week's end. And that puts the decisions back on La Russa's shoulders, far away from team trainer Barry Weinberg.

"It's about time," Weinberg joked. "I'd rather him make decisions than me."

Carp's start: Carpenter threw 34 pitches in a simulated game on Wednesday and is ready to begin a Minor League rehab assignment in five days. The details of the assignment are still to come, but Carpenter remains on schedule for a July return to the bigs.

"He felt good," Weinberg said. "He said he had pretty good command of his pitches and was happy with how he threw. We'll wait until tomorrow to see how he recovers, and then he'll begin his rehab assignment."

Izzy in a tizzy: Jason Isringhausen's blown save on Tuesday night was just his second of the season, after converting 10 straight chances. But more remarkable, those 10 saves took him more than two months to accrue. Entering Tuesday's play, he hadn't had a save opportunity since June 6.

"I'm not going to rattle off 81 straight like other people do," Isringhausen said. "That's just part of the game."

Mr. Popular: Rookie Brendan Ryan hasn't taken long to learn what being a celebrity's all about. He was up for hours after midnight talking on the phone following his game-winning home run on Tuesday -- and by the time he got to the park on Wednesday, he had already received more than 40 text messages from friends and foes alike.

"Two ex-girlfriends called last night," Ryan joked before Wednesday's game. "Sorry. You blew it."

Baby 'Birds: Rick Ankiel continued his torrid hitting at Triple-A Memphis, finishing 2-for-5 with a home run in Tuesday's 7-4 loss to New Orleans. Ankiel is now hitting .471 over his last four games, with two homers and two doubles. He's batting .283 with 21 home runs in just 247 at-bats with Memphis.

Coming up: The Mets and Cards wrap up their four-game series at Shea in Thursday's finale, scheduled for a 6:10 p.m. CT start. Adam Wainwright will start for the Cards, opposite Orlando Hernandez of the Mets.

Anthony DiComo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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