JUPITER, Fla. -- What once looked like a competition, then took on the appearance of a coronation, may yet have another twist.

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David Freese is healthy again, having played third base for Triple-A Memphis on Friday. Joe Mather is slumping, bogged down in an 0-for-19 skid. Mather is still the favorite to start at third base on Opening Day for the Cardinals, and Freese remains in Minor League camp. But the margin between them is narrower than it used to be.

And it's not just Freese. Brian Barden and Joe Thurston each got a start at third base in the past two Cardinals games, and someone other than Mather will start Saturday when the Cards travel north to Viera, Fla., to play the Nationals. That start could go to Freese, or it could go to one of the other third-base candidates on the roster, Brendan Ryan or Tyler Greene.

But there's no doubt that Freese intrigues St. Louis. He was reassigned to Minor League camp due to a lingering left Achilles tendon injury. But he served as the designated hitter in a Minor League game Thursday, and played the field Friday. He's that rare case, a player in Minor League camp who has the Major League staff's attention.

"He caught a tough break," said manager Tony La Russa. "Had he been healthy, then he and Joe would have basically been splitting the time. He hasn't gotten any time, so we'll see if he can pass a test or two. He passed a test [Thursday], because he ran well to first base. We'll see if he stays healthy."

Mather, meanwhile, played the outfield Thursday, sat out Friday and will rest again Saturday. He hopes that the breather might help him sort things out a little bit.

"It's one of those things," Mather said. "I'm thankful that it's still spring. It's frustrating, but I still feel like I'll come around. We've got about two weeks left."