ST. LOUIS -- David Freese, who made a pinch-hit appearance on Saturday, passed all the necessary ankle tests in order to be cleared to return to the Cardinals' lineup on Sunday. It is Freese's first start since Monday, when he suffered a mild right ankle sprain while running in Houston's indoor batting cage just prior to first pitch.
Freese's only plate appearance since then came on Saturday, when he drew a seventh-inning walk. A pinch-runner took Freese's place on first so that he would not have to run the bases.
Despite the recent setback with his ankle, Freese is about to wrap up a mostly healthy 2012 campaign. Sunday will be Freese's 130th start at third base. Injuries in 2010-11 limited him to a combined 151 starts at this position during those two seasons.
"It's just a little hiccup," Freese said of the ankle sprain. "I'm very happy with what I've done and how much I've played this year compared to past years."
With Freese back in the lineup, the Cardinals' starting eight position players on Sunday are likely the same eight that would take the field in Friday's Wild Card game, assuming the Cardinals advance to the postseason. Carlos Beltran, after hitting in the six-hole, moves back to the No. 2 spot in the batting order.
Still resting elbow, Furcal scheduled for checkup
ST. LOUIS -- Rafael Furcal, still recovering from a right elbow strain, sounded hardly optimistic on Sunday that he'd have a chance to return to the club should the Cardinals make a deep postseason run.
Furcal has not resumed throwing since injuring his elbow on Aug. 30. Doctors initially told him that he would likely need to rest his arm for five to six weeks before beginning to throw again. Furcal said he plans to have a followup visit with the doctor this week to discuss his progress.
"I wish I could try something and feel good," Furcal said. "I'm bored."
Furcal said he still has trouble getting full extension of his right arm, though he is hopeful that he still will not be prescribed surgery to address the injury. The Cardinals should know by the end of October, for sure, whether surgery will be needed. If so, the recovery time would likely be six to eight months.
Furcal does intend to travel with the team during the postseason, if the Cardinals can capture the second NL Wild Card spot.
Matheny calls for improvement on bunting
ST. LOUIS -- Manager Mike Matheny said he intends to bring a "different look to our bunting approach" next year after having so many unsuccessful bunt attempt cost the Cardinals this season.
Matheny has been aggressive in calling for sacrifices all season and has taken criticism for the timing of some of those calls. But that shouldn't release players from shouldering fault when a lack of execution is to blame. And this has been much more an issue than the actual decision to call for a bunt to be laid down.
"I do believe there's room for improvement all across the board," Matheny said. "I think we could be better. I think they think we could be better."
The list of unsuccessful sacrifices is lengthy with this Cardinals club, though the team does rank seventh in the league with 68 successful attempts. A more appropriate measure would be successes per attempts, though that percentage is not publicly available.
While bunting will be a significant emphasis during Spring Training next year, the Cardinals are also intentional in trying to improve that aspect of the game now.
"Right now what we're doing, without killing these guys ... we are doing more," Matheny said, referring to the pregame bunting work. "We're being proactive. Sometimes it's working out for us. Sometimes, not so much."
The Cardinals still plan to start Jaime Garcia and Chris Carpenter against the Reds on Monday and Tuesday, respectively. Wednesday's pitching situation, however, remains somewhat fluid. The start lines up to be Adam Wainwright's, but if the Cardinals have clinched a postseason berth by then, they could hold Wainwright out in order to have him ready to pitch the Wild Card game (Friday) or Game 1 of the National League Division Series (Sunday).
The Reds have set their rotation for the upcoming series, and the Cardinals are slated to see the following pitchers: Bronson Arroyo (12-9, 3.70 ERA) on Monday, Mat Latos (13-4, 3.60 ERA) on Tuesday and Homer Bailey (13-10, 3.75 ERA) on Wednesday. Bailey threw a no-hitter against the Pirates on Friday.
For the last several weeks, Matheny has joined in the club's recent phenomenon dubbed "High Socks Sunday." He did so again in the series finale against Washington. Daniel Descalso is credited with getting the Sunday tradition going and Matheny admitted that he initially joined in because he thought participation was mandatory. The Cardinals have won all four Sunday games this month.
Ted Savage Jr., who played in the Majors for nine seasons, threw out a ceremonial first pitch on Sunday. Savage spent three of those seasons as a Cardinal and has since worked 25 years with the Cardinals' front office.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.