JUPITER, Fla. -- Catching is no longer a novelty for Nick Stavinoha. It's closer to a necessity.

Stavinoha was removed from the Cardinals' 40-man roster over the winter, significantly lengthening his odds of making the Opening Day roster. It also doesn't help Stavinoha that five outfield spots appear to be pretty close to set. So anything that can help him get back to the big leagues helps. Establishing himself as a viable option behind the plate might be one such thing.

He did some catching in college, and in recent years, he's come to Spring Training early to help catch the crush of pitchers who need to throw at the beginning of camp. But before this year, he was always moved back to work with the outfielders before games started.

This time around, he's still catching on the eve of Grapefruit League play. Stavinoha caught Ryan Franklin and P.J. Walters in their batting practice sessions on Sunday, and manager Tony La Russa said that he may spend some time as the backstop in games this spring.

That's fine with Stavinoha.

"It's one day at a time," he said. "I don't know what the long-term plan is there, but I come in and do whatever the schedule says. It's gone a little bit better for me this year as far as the way my body has responded. So I think that I'm just going to keep going with it. It's a good opportunity for me to learn a new position."

Stavinoha has lost weight since last year, allowing him to move better behind the plate. He also said he's fully recovered from a right shoulder injury that limited his throwing at midseason last year. Additionally, he's getting enough experience to pick up some of the art of catching.

"I think it's safe to say that he's made some significant strides in doing that more than just in an emergency," La Russa said.

Berkman expects to play outfield Monday

JUPITER, Fla. -- Lance Berkman continues to manage some soreness in his left (throwing) elbow, but Berkman played Sunday in the Cardinals' intrasquad "coaches' game" and expects to start in the outfield in the club's Grapefruit League opener on Monday as well.

Berkman was held out of throwing on Friday, and like most Cardinals veterans, did not participate in Saturday's coaches' game. He was back in regular action on Sunday, though, playing right field in the scrimmage and making routine throws back to the infield. Berkman acknowledged that he's not fully cutting loose with his throws at this point, but also pointed out that in February, he doesn't really need to.

"If it was in the regular season, then yeah, you go as hard as you can go," he said. "But here, you have an opportunity to kind of build into that. I'm not as concerned about outfield assists in Spring Training."

After playing first base and designated hitter exclusively for the past three years, Berkman believes that the soreness results from making the more frequent and longer throws required of an outfielder in the spring. He has expressed only minimal concern over the condition.

"It's just something that I need to be careful with and not let it get to the point where it limits me in any way," he said.

Tidbits

Mark Hamilton, David Carpenter and Albert Pujols all homered in Sunday's intrasquad "coaches' game," while Jon Jay hit two triples. ... A team consisting mostly of Minor Leaguers and reserves defeated a team featuring nearly all of the club's starting position players, 8-6, in the coaches' game. ... Tyrell Jenkins and Jordan Swagerty, two of the Cardinals' top picks from last June's Draft, threw bullpen sessions as part of the club's Minor League minicamp on Sunday.

Weather report: Monday looks like a pretty perfect day to begin Grapefruit League play. The forecast calls for temperatures in the low 70s when the Cardinals begin their workout in the 9 o'clock hour, rising to the low 80s for the game. There's no rain expected, once again.