ST. LOUIS -- Yadier Molina expressed optimism regarding his sore knee on Monday, four days after the Cardinals announced they were likely shutting down their catcher for the rest of the season as a result of the injury.

"Minor deal," Molina told reporters. "It's just inflammation. The MRI said it's just inflammation and I just need rest. So I think with rest, it's going to be better."

Molina has been dealing with pain in his right knee since late August, when he suffered an injury in a game against the Nationals in Washington. The soreness got worse on the Cardinals' recent road trip, and so on Wednesday Molina went back to St. Louis to be examined. On Thursday, general manager John Mozeliak acknowledged that Molina was not expected to play again in 2010.

Echoing Mozeliak's comments from last week, Molina expressed confidence that he will not require surgery.

"That's what they told me," he said. "They told me with rest, the inflammation is going to go away. They're 90 percent sure with rest it's going to go away."

He's not thrilled about missing the rest of the season, but Molina said he understands the decision.

"It's tough to sit down," he said, "but you've got to take care of yourself."

Wainwright may miss final scheduled start

ST. LOUIS -- A mild bout of elbow discomfort could cause Adam Wainwright to miss his final scheduled start of the 2010 season, which currently is scheduled for Thursday against the Rockies.

Wainwright has made two starts since first feeling something in his pitching elbow. He came down with the issue as a result of sleeping awkwardly on his arm. He strongly downplayed the condition, but still acknowledged that he might not make his final start.

"Very insignificant," he said. "They're going to wait and see how things feel -- and even if things feel great, they still might just play it safe. It's a stupid, freak, ridiculous [thing] -- and it's the God's honest truth, too."

The right-hander, who is a candidate for the National League Cy Young Award, has not thrown bullpen sessions between starts since he hurt his elbow. Still, he and manager Tony La Russa both refer to the condition as a matter of stiffness or tenderness, and not an injury. Wainwright has turned in two strong games since first feeling something, allowing two runs in 14 innings while recording his 19th and 20th wins of the year.

"We're definitely not going to push him," La Russa said. "If his elbow remains stiff, with some soreness, there's no way you would push him."

Regardless of whether Wainwright pitches on Thursday, rookie P.J. Walters will start Wednesday afternoon's game against the Pirates. That will push the remainder of the Cards' starters back one day, with Wainwright currently slated to pitch on Thursday, followed by Chris Carpenter, Jake Westbrook, and Kyle Lohse in the final game of the regular season.

If Wainwright is skipped, Carpenter, Westbrook and Lohse would all be moved forward one day, to pitch on the normal four days' rest. In that case, Jeff Suppan would start the final game of the regular season on Sunday.

Ottavino may return this weekend

ST. LOUIS -- A Cardinals bullpen that's down a couple of bodies could get some help this weekend.

Adam Ottavino, who hasn't pitched since July 3, is scheduled to face hitters on Tuesday for the first time since he was sidelined with a shoulder injury. If that goes well, Ottavino could be available to pitch in relief in the Cardinals' final regular-season series against Colorado.

Ottavino has expressed a desire to pitch this year, but until Monday, manager Tony La Russa had all but ruled it out. However, a sequence of events has left the Cardinals with fewer available relievers than is usually the case in September -- and, more specifically, no long reliever. Usual long man Blake Hawksworth is out after being hit in the face with a line drive, and P.J. Walters will start Wednesday's game against the Pirates.

"If he felt really good [after throwing on Tuesday], he might be available the last couple days," La Russa said. "Which, I'd take him for two days. We're not going to be able to go in and out with bunches of pitchers if there's a struggle."

Craig earns additional playing time

ST. LOUIS -- Allen Craig has played himself into some nice playing time in recent days, and it's likely to continue over the season's final week.

At the time Ryan Ludwick was traded, it sounded as though Jon Jay and Craig would split time in right field for the remainder of the season. However, it turned out that Jay played nearly every day, while Craig was sent back to Triple-A Memphis. Upon his return, though, Craig has shown some of the offensive potential the club believes he has. Since his most recent recall, Craig is 6-for-12 with two extra-base hits.

In fact, since Craig was first sent down to the Minors in late April after making the Opening Day roster, he's been an effective Major League hitter. In his subsequent turns with the big club, he's batting .270 with a .321 on-base percentage and a .459 slugging percentage.

"Jon is a little sluggish right now," manager Tony La Russa acknowledged on Monday. "That's why I think we've got a good club, because there [are] guys on the bench that could be playing and I think could help us. But we won the first game [in Chicago over the weekend] because Craig hit a three-run homer, and yesterday he hit the ball hard all day long. You make statements like, 'The guys that play the best, play the most.'

"I saw Jon. He'll play this week. But it's Allen's day today."

La Russa said that Jay is not sitting in order to protect his batting average. Jay has fallen to a .302 mark, and La Russa has said he hates to cost players a chance at finishing above .300. But he emphasized on Monday that Craig's recent opportunities don't result from that.

"If this was the last couple days, [maybe]," he said. "But no, not yet."

Tidbits

Manager Tony La Russa said on Monday that reliever Blake Hawksworth is expected to be around some this week, although he won't be available to pitch. The right-hander is recuperating from being hit in the face by a line drive in Chicago on Saturday. ... St. Louis Rams great Isaac Bruce, who will have his jersey retired by the Rams next month, threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Monday's game. ... Right-hander Lance Lynn was recognized by MiLB.com as the Pacific Coast League's "Pitcher of the Postseason" for his strong showing in Triple-A Memphis' run to the PCL finals. Lynn struck out 16 over seven innings in Game 3 of the Redbirds' first-round series against Oklahoma City. ... La Russa acknowledged that both Albert Pujols and Adam Wainwright probably have only a slim chance at winning the National League's Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Awards, respectively. "I'm concerned because the criteria once in a while is, 'Did your team get to October?'" La Russa said, adding that "nobody's going to win [the MVP] by default. There's some guys out there, just like there are some pitchers who have had really good years. I think both our guys may be marked down because we didn't finish first. But that hasn't always been a determining factor, so we'll see."