08/28/12 1:05 AM ET
Hot Craig staying in Cardinals' cleanup spot
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
"Right now," Matheny said, "I can't see a better spot for him."
With Carlos Beltran struggling and David Freese recovering from a left wrist injury, Craig is a natural choice to slide into the fourth spot in the lineup. But his tenure there might not be temporary.
Craig, who has driven in nine runs in his past four games, leads the Majors with a .409 average (36-for-88) with runners in scoring position. His average in such spots with less than two outs is even better at .524.
"I've always liked driving in runs," Craig said. "Throughout my career, I've been in the middle of the lineup. I definitely take pride in driving in runs, but as far as the stats go, I don't really worry about that. I just try to take each situation for what it is."
Craig's three RBIs on Sunday pushed him to a season total of 71, even though injuries have limited Craig to only 85 games. He became the fourth Cardinals player to eclipse the 70-RBI mark this season, making the Cardinals the only National League team with four players to achieve the feat.
Matt Holliday leads the NL with 89 RBIs. Beltran is tied for second with 85, while Freese has 71.
Craig has made at least 23 starts from three different spots in the batting order (second, fourth and fifth) this season.
"I think he's becoming one of the elite middle-of-the-order hitters in the National League," Holliday said. "I think he's had that potential, and I think he is that now. He's been extremely impressive and putting up numbers that are as good as anybody."
Freese expects to return to starting lineup Tuesday
PITTSBURGH -- David Freese's bruised left wrist gave him no issues as he took swings in the PNC Park batting cages on Monday afternoon. As a result, the third baseman expects to return to the Cardinals' starting lineup on Tuesday.
Freese did not appear in the club's games in Cincinnati on Saturday and Sunday after taking a pitch and a grounder off his wrist late in Friday's game. The X-rays Freese took over the weekend showed no fracture, and Monday's batting-practice session was further confirmation that Freese feels strong enough to return.
"I'm good," Freese said. "Actually, I thought I'd be in there today."
Manager Mike Matheny admitted that keeping Freese out on Monday was likely an overcautious move. But the decision to play it safe was made easier by the fact that Freese's replacement, Matt Carpenter, has three hits in five previous at-bats against Pirates starter A.J. Burnett.
Freese did end up making a pinch-hit appearance and struck out in the eighth.
Lynn comes on in relief for first time this year
PITTSBURGH -- The Cardinals opened a series in Pittsburgh on Monday with a new pitcher available out of the bullpen. For the first time since the 2011 World Series, Lance Lynn watched games from the 'pen, ready to enter as needed.
The Cardinals announced on Saturday that the club would flip-flop roles for Lynn and Joe Kelly, whose own stay in the 'pen lasted a mere two games. Because Lynn threw only 62 pitches in a two-inning start on Friday, the Cardinals were comfortable going to Lynn as soon as Monday.
While Lynn's relief role isn't explicitly defined, manager Mike Matheny called upon the right-hander to carry the Cardinals for 1 1/3 innings in Monday's 4-3 win over the Pirates.
Lynn entered in the sixth when a rain delay forced starter Kyle Lohse to end his night earlier than expected. And Lynn returned to the mound in the seventh because of Edward Mujica's unavailability.
Mujica, who has been Matheny's go-to reliever in the seventh, had pitched in three of the past four games. Matheny did not want to tack on additional work on Monday.
"We've used Mujica a lot lately," Matheny said. "We're just going to have to be careful with these guys. We're riding them pretty hard."
Moving forward, Lynn would, obviously, also be a long-relief option, and the Cardinals have asked him not to discard the mental preparation he used as a starter. Should the club need to make any changes in its rotation, Lynn would be the first pitcher slotted back in.
"I want him to keep his mind prepared and his extra work going in that direction of possibly being a starter again," Matheny said. "We don't know how or when. And right now, we want him to take a lot of pride in helping us from the bullpen."
PITTSBURGH -- News and notes from around the Cardinals' Minor League system:
Right-hander Tyrell Jenkins traveled to St. Louis on Monday to undergo an MRI on his right side. Jenkins exited his low Class A start Friday with discomfort in his back and shoulder area. The Cardinals believe Jenkins is dealing with a strained lat muscle, but the MRI was scheduled to confirm that the injury is no more severe.
Because of the timing, Jenkins will not pitch again this season. The Quad Cities club wraps up its season next Monday.
Oscar Taveras, ranked by MLB.com as the Cardinals' top position-player prospect, is expected to return to the Double-A Springfield lineup on Tuesday. Taveras exited Friday's game after hitting first base awkwardly while trying to beat out a hit. He has been dealing with some discomfort in his hip/upper leg since.
"He could have played [Sunday and Monday]," farm director John Vuch said. "But we want to make sure there's no chance of reinjury."
The time off comes after Taveras sat two days last week because of general fatigue. Taveras is batting .322 with 35 doubles, 22 homers and 89 RBIs in Double-A this season.
Cardinals top pitching prospect Shelby Miller was named the Pacific Coast League Player of the Week after limiting opponents to seven hits and three earned runs in a pair of starts (12 2/3 innings) last week. Miller struck out 19 and walked three. This marks Miller's second PCL weekly honor.
Outfielder Mike O'Neill (Springfield) and right-hander Boone Whiting (Quad Cities) also earned Player/Pitcher of the Week honors for their respective leagues.
The Gulf Coast League Cardinals lost a winner-take-all playoff game against the GCL Pirates on Sunday that ended their season one game short of the league's championship series. The GCL Cardinals recorded only four hits in the 1-0 loss.
Rookie Level Johnson City clinched a playoff berth on Sunday. The club's best-of-three first-round series begins on Wednesday.
Double-A Springfield earned its trip to the Texas League playoffs with a 4-3 win on Monday. Springfield will play in the postseason as the second-half North Division champions.
Short-season Batavia has an outside chance at playing in the New York-Penn League postseason, too. Batavia entered Monday trailing division leader Auburn by two, with 10 games remaining on its schedule.
First baseman Lance Berkman (right knee soreness) has started his Minor League rehab assignment with one hit in first five at-bats with Triple-A Memphis. Berkman played in games on Friday (five innings) and Saturday (seven innings) before taking a scheduled day off on Sunday.
Berkman's rehab assignment is unlikely to last longer than Thursday, which is the final day of Memphis' homestand. Berkman is then expected to fly to Washington, where he will meet up with the Cardinals. He won't be activated from the disabled list any earlier than Saturday -- the first day rosters can expand.
The Cardinals have had discussions about potential September callups, but manager Mike Matheny said the list has not yet been finalized. The club is expected to bring some reinforcements up on the first day rosters expand while waiting until the end of the Triple-A season to bring up the rest.
Matheny made a rare appearance behind the plate on Sunday, when he crouched to catch warmup pitches from Fernando Salas in the ninth inning.
"I thought I might lose some teeth," said the four-time Gold Glove Award-winning catcher. "It's amazing how quick the game moves now after being away from it a little while."
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.