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Notes: Pujols' bat donation pays off

Notes: Pujols' bat donation pays off

WASHINGTON -- When the Nationals visited St. Louis in May, former Cardinal Ronnie Belliard had a request for Albert Pujols: He asked the All-Star for one of his bats.

"I was trying to use mine, but they didn't have any pop," Belliard said. "So I told him, 'Hey, send me some bats.' "

Pujols obliged, and that night Belliard went 4-for-5 with a home run. That was enough to make him a believer, and now the Nationals' second baseman heads to the plate with a maple bat that sports Pujols' name on the barrel.

The bats were ones Pujols used for batting practice, so they were marked up from repeated use, but that didn't bother Belliard, who is one of the Nationals' best hitters this season. In fact, his .302 average is just a few points short of that of the Cardinals star.

"I called [Pujols] the other day and said, 'Hey, you better start hitting,' " Belliard said. "He told me, 'I'm hitting .300.' And I said, 'I am, too.' "

Belliard played with the Cardinals during the 2006 season. He began the season in Washington as a utility player, but injuries to others have moved him into a starting role at second base. Before Friday's game, he greeted his old teammates during batting practice.

Pujols said that it wasn't the first time another player has asked him for one of his bats, but not everybody gets as lucky as Belliard.

"I don't give my bats away to too many people," Pujols said. "This is one of my good friends."

Pineiro ready for debut: Right-hander Joel Pineiro will make his first start for the Cardinals on Saturday night. He joined the team at the trade deadline after being designated for assignment by the Red Sox.

Boston had hoped to turn Pineiro into a reliever, but after a rough year, the team sent him to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he returned to a starting role. He said that developing arm strength was the biggest challenge when he switched roles.

"You've got to get your pitch count up," Pineiro said. "That's the No. 1 thing. In the bullpen, the most you throw is two or three innings. To give a quality start, you've got to go out there and throw 85 to 100 pitches."

Manager Tony La Russa said that Pineiro was impressive during a bullpen session in Pittsburgh, and that he wouldn't hesitate to pull the pitcher out of the game early if necessary.

"We'll watch him closely," La Russa said. "If he starts to fade, we're not going to leave him in."

Pineiro has pitched against the Nationals three times in his career, going 1-1 with a 2.11 ERA.

He'll be sporting No. 35, which the team had reserved for new Pirates pitcher Matt Morris, whom the Cardinals thought they would acquire at the trade deadline.

Injury update: Pitcher Mark Mulder, who is on the disabled list with a torn rotator cuff, threw batting practice at the team's Spring Training facility in Jupiter, Fla., on Friday.

La Russa said that Mulder was "making progress," and that the next step would be a simulated game, which has not yet been scheduled.

The other injury news concerned reliever Tyler Johnson, who hasn't been with the team since June. La Russa said that Johnson was almost ready to play in the Major Leagues again.

"I think there's a chance that when we get home, he could be ready to come back," La Russa said.

Coming up: The Cardinals stay in Washington for two more games. On Saturday at 6:05 p.m. CT, Pineiro goes up against Joel Hanrahan, who will be making his second start of the season for Washington.

Michael Phillips 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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