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08/17/12 8:55 PM ET

Molina better, hopes to play in Bucs' series

Cardinals catcher misses third straight day with back tightness

ST. LOUIS -- Though he remained out of the lineup for a third straight day, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina noted improvement with his back and expressed some optimism that he will not miss the entire weekend series against Pittsburgh.

Molina took swings in the batting cage on Friday, which represented a significant step forward considering he couldn't finish his swing without feeling a substantial amount of discomfort one day earlier. He intends, too, to serve as the bullpen catcher on Friday, which would provide another test for his back. Molina has been dealing with middle back tightness since Tuesday.

"Each day it's getting better," Molina said. "It's hard because you want to be part of this big series. We know the Pirates are in [position for] the Wild Card, and you want to be there for your team and try to help the team win. But at the same time, you have to think about your health. You can't go out there 50 percent. You have to go out there 100 percent."

There is a chance Molina could return this weekend, though it's also not a certainty. He is undergoing therapy and engaging in exercises in an effort to expedite the recovery. Tony Cruz continues to catch in Molina's absence.

"Yesterday, I couldn't swing," Molina said. "Today, I was swinging way better than yesterday. Hopefully, tomorrow, I can give you good news."

Berkman slated for rehab stint at Memphis

ST. LOUIS -- Assuming Lance Berkman doesn't experience a setback before then, the Cardinals intend to have him join Triple-A Memphis to begin a Minor League rehab assignment on Wednesday. That date coincides with the start of a nine-day homestand for Memphis.

Berkman is on the disabled list with soreness in his right knee, which has already been operated upon this year. That surgery cost Berkman nearly two months of the season, and, after a brief return to the club, Berkman has been back on the DL since Aug. 3. His absence shouldn't be as long this time, but the inclusion of a Minor League rehab stint is a change.

Berkman, with the Cardinals' consent, chose not to go to the Minors before coming off the DL in July. Berkman then went 6-for-33 upon that return.

Cognizant that neither of his knees will be 100 percent this year, Berkman is progressing enough to put him in position to at least help the Cardinals off the bench for the season's final month. He has resumed swinging, and he was out playing catch again on Friday.

Though Berkman estimated that he'll spend about a week with Memphis, it's likely that the Cardinals will wait until rosters expand on Sept. 1 before activating him. That would eliminate the need for another roster move.

Lynn trying to erase those first-inning runs

ST. LOUIS -- Stung by first-inning runs at an alarming rate this season, Lance Lynn decided to vary his pregame routine in each of his last two starts. He chose to warm up earlier, which allowed him more time to sit before taking the mound.

The tweak didn't work, as six of the eight runs Lynn allowed in his last two outings were scored in the first.

It's certainly not the first change Lynn has tried, as anything he hasn't attempted to alter this year, he's likely tried before. That's because Lynn has had first-inning woes since, well, Little League.

"It's been a problem my whole life, since I was 10 years old," Lynn said. "I have always been someone who pitched better late in games. They know that, and we've been trying to work on it since 2008. We thought it was behind us."

Lynn said on Friday, one day before he starts against the Pirates, that he's done fiddling and that he will return to his normal routine, which he believes can still work consistently, even if it hasn't all season.

The contrast between Lynn in the first inning and Lynn in every other inning is extreme. He's allowed 21 earned runs, seven home runs, 31 hits and 10 walks in 23 first innings this season. His ERA in the frame: 8.22.

In comparison, Lynn's ERA from the second inning on is 2.74. The right-hander has given up only 35 runs, six home runs, 97 hits and 40 walks after the first inning. So what gives?

"I'd summarize it as it's mainly about mental approach and preparation, what his idea is for a first-inning game plan," manager Mike Matheny said. "Not just having those ideas, but then the execution of them."

The first-inning troubles have been particularly exaggerated recently for Lynn. In his last four starts, nine of the 16 runs he has given up have come in that opening frame.

His opponent on Saturday knows something about jumping on him early, too. Back on July 30, Lynn allowed six runs in a home start against Pittsburgh. Four of those runs were scored in the first.

"It's gotten to that point where I can't let it snowball it anymore," Lynn said. "I have to go out there and get the job done at this point. Plain and simple: I'm not worried about it anymore. I just have to go out and pitch my game."

Worth noting

• The Cardinals removed first baseman Mark Hamilton from the team's 40-man roster and granted him his unconditional release on Friday. The 76th-overall selection in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, Hamilton hit .231 with a .340 on-base percentage, 12 doubles, 15 homers and 51 RBIs in 90 Triple-A games this season.

Hamilton, 28, earned callups to St. Louis in 2010 and '11, though he was never strongly considered for a big league roster spot this season. In 47 Major League games, Hamilton hit .197.

• With the assistance of donations made to the Cardinals Care's Joplin Recovery fund last year, the Cardinals are set to donate $200,000 to four charities that will assist children in Joplin, Mo., which was devastated by a tornado last May. Children's Haven ($70,000), Bright Futures ($40,000) the Ronald McDonald House ($20,000) and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Jasper & Newton Counties/Joplin ($70,000) will all be presented with checks when members of the St. Louis organization travel to Joplin on Monday to assist with a Habitat for Humanity build.

• Top pitching prospect Shelby Miller earned his fourth straight win with a six-inning performance for Triple-A Memphis on Thursday. Miller allowed five hits and three earned runs, while walking one and striking out seven. Miller had not walked a batter in any of his five previous starts.

Miller, who did not have the season start that most anticipated, has allowed just 10 earned runs in his last four games (25 2/3 innings). In that span, Miller has struck out 33.

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.