"He said, 'We need a short reliever, right?' " La Russa said. "Well, this guy's the shortest reliever."
That guy was 5-foot-8 second baseman Aaron Miles, who retired the side during his inning of work.
La Russa doesn't want to have to go that route again, but he knows that with his bullpen overused, and the team not yet halfway through a stretch of 13 consecutive games, he may not have other options.
"If the game gets away, you've got to really let it get away, and not pitch guys that, if you have a chance to win tomorrow, [would be] unavailable," La Russa said.
The bullpen has been carrying the load for the Cards for most of the season. Its 21 wins are just one short of last season's 22. On Saturday, Brad Thompson made his third appearance in four days before being relieved by Miles.
La Russa is also unsure about what to do with lefty Mike Maroth, who has struggled recently. In his last five outings, Maroth has given up five runs or more.
"He's not himself," La Russa said. "He's really in a tough position. He's not having fun, and he's suffering more than anybody."
The manager said that he was looking for a solid outing out of Adam Wainwright on Sunday to help alleviate some of the pressure on the bullpen.
Miles in nine-spot: A day after pitching for the first time since high school, Miles found himself hitting ninth on Sunday.
It is day two of La Russa's new strategy, in which he hits the pitcher eighth.
History bodes well. The last time La Russa tried this maneuver was in 1998, and after losing the first game with the new lineup, the team went on a three-game winning streak.
Pujols rejoins lineup: After sitting out Saturday's game with a sore right elbow, first baseman Albert Pujols was back in the lineup on Sunday.
"He's not 100 percent, but he's playable," La Russa said. "He's got some soreness there."
Early start on Monday: Monday night's game at Busch Stadium will start at 6:08 p.m. CT to accommodate ESPN, which will be broadcasting the game between the Cards and Padres.
Injury update: Reliever Tyler Johnson will likely rejoin the team early next week. He was placed on the disabled list on June 22 with tendinitis in his left biceps. La Russa said that Johnson was very close to being ready to return.
Left-hander Mark Mulder will throw a simulated game early next week at the team's Spring Training facility in Jupiter, Fla. He's missed the entire season with a torn rotator cuff, and La Russa said his recovery called for patience.
"I'm just glad he's starting to face hitters, which is a step in the right direction," La Russa said. "I won't speculate on a day when he might pitch in a Major League game."
La Russa ejected: On Sunday, La Russa was ejected from a game for just the second time this season.
In the fourth inning, the manager came out to argue after Washington's Ryan Zimmerman was called safe at first base on a ground ball. Replays showed that Zimmerman was out by a small margin.
One inning later, Ryan Ludwick struck out on a ball that he felt was below the strike zone. La Russa came out to argue for his player, and was promptly tossed from the game.
It was the second ejection in eight days for La Russa after he'd gone the entire first half of the season without one.
Coming up: The Cards return home for a seven-day homestand and will face San Diego on Monday at 6:08 p.m. Braden Looper (8-9, 5.23) will start against David Wells (5-7, 5.18).
Michael Phillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.