JUPITER, Fla. -- Dave Duncan is taking Brandon Dickson seriously. That's a pretty good indication that fans and reporters should, too.

Asked about Dickson's candidacy for the Cardinals' vacant fifth-starter spot on Friday, the St. Louis pitching coach didn't hesitate. He likes what Dickson has to offer, even if the undrafted right-hander is less of a big name than nearly anyone else in the competition.

"I think you need to portray him as being very legitimate in the mix," Duncan said.

Dickson is coming off an outstanding year at Triple-A Memphis. He went 11-8 with a 3.23 ERA, 137 strikeouts and 53 walks in 167 innings, allowing just 11 homers on the season. He's an extreme ground-ball pitcher, something that always catches Duncan's eye.

"He's got a great body for a pitcher," Duncan said. I haven't seen him pitch, [so] I'll see if this is true or not when I see him pitch, but he seems to have control of his emotions. His mannerisms are good. We'll see. I like his stuff. I like his ability to throw a breaking ball for strikes, which is along with what I consider a real good sinker."

Kyle McClellan appears to be the favorite for the job, but Dickson will get a look. He'll pitch on Wednesday in relief of Jake Westbrook. Duncan also indicated that if Dickson doesn't make the starting rotation, he'll have a chance to earn a spot as a long reliever with the Major League club.

Early signs from Lohse encouraging

JUPITER, Fla. -- One of Cardinals manager Tony La Russa's favorite expressions is that you should never fall in or out of love too early in Spring Training. With that said, there's at least a lot to like about what Kyle Lohse has been doing early in camp so far.

Lohse threw his second live batting-practice session of the spring on Friday, and once again his stuff looked sharp. His fastball had solid movement, and he didn't see many solid swings against any of his offerings.

Asked about the showing, Lohse downplayed it somewhat but acknowledged that he's at least feeling good. Pitching coach Dave Duncan was more enthusiastic, noting that Lohse is less physically compromised than he has been in about 21 months. Lohse suffered a forearm injury in May 2009, battled the condition until he finally had surgery in May 2010, and never appeared to be at full strength even after he returned from the operation.

"Lohse is doing a lot of things that he couldn't do last year," Duncan said. "I don't think he had the ability to put any kind of real good spin on the ball last year, which affected his sinker, affected his cutter, affected his curveball. Now I think he's healthy, and those pitches are all better. ... [After the surgery], he wasn't 100 percent. Physically he was healthy, but he wasn't strength-wise able to do the things that he's able to do now."

Lohse will make his first game appearance of the spring on Friday, March 4, against the Astros in Kissimmee, Fla.

Cards' spring rotation beginning to take shape

JUPITER, Fla. -- Though some of the Cardinals' Spring Training pitching plans remain in flux with three days before Grapefruit League play begins, the first turn through the club's rotation is set. It's after the first five games that things get a bit more complicated.

One thing is set, though: In the absence of Adam Wainwright, right-hander Chris Carpenter will start Opening Day for the Redbirds, March 31 against the Padres at Busch Stadium. That start had been tentatively slated to go to Wainwright until he suffered a season-ending elbow injury, but it will now go to Carpenter. Pitching coach Dave Duncan confirmed that fairly obvious fact on Friday.

Raul Valdes, meanwhile, stays on turn to start the Spring Training opener on Monday against the Mets. He'll be followed by Carpenter on Tuesday, Jake Westbrook on Wednesday, Jaime Garcia and Kyle McClellan in the club's two split-squad games on Thursday and Kyle Lohse on Friday, March 4. It's on March 5 that the first bit of uncertainty comes. That would have been Wainwright's second start.

"I haven't figured out who's going to start that game yet," Duncan said on Friday.

At some point, the rotation will likely be shuffled a little bit, for a few reasons. One is to get Carpenter on turn to pitch the opener, though that won't be difficult with an off-day in the schedule. Another is to get McClellan off of the same day as Garcia. And finally, the Cards may decide they want to adjust some of the matchups in the regular season's first month, now that Wainwright is out.

Freese feeling good, but Cards will be careful

JUPITER, Fla. -- David Freese continues to express optimism about his recovery from two ankle surgeries, but an exact schedule for his appearances in Grapefruit League action has yet to be determined.

Both Freese and manager Tony La Russa said Friday that Freese's work so far this spring has gone very well. Freese explained that he ran the bases at close to full speed on Friday. However, La Russa also said that the club will remain very conservative with its starting third baseman.

"He's feeling really good," La Russa said. "I think he's feeling so good that we want to really keep maintaining this [caution]. Work him, back him off. He's feeling really well. ... I feel like he'll play the first week, some of those first games. He's really feeling [good] ... but he's feeling so well that if it means keeping him out a week to be more certain, that's all right with me."

Freese continued to maintain that whatever happens in the first part of spring games, he expects to be a full go for Opening Day, March 31 at home against the Padres.

Berkman being cautious with sore elbow

JUPITER, Fla. -- Lance Berkman took a day off of throwing on Friday in order to rest his left elbow. Berkman acknowledged that he was feeling some discomfort in his throwing elbow in recent days, and so he was given a rest when it came to throwing on Friday.

Berkman still participated in other drills, including live batting practice.

"We threw a lot yesterday, and my elbow is a little bit sore today, so I decided not to throw," Berkman said.

"Going from first base to the outfield, you throw more and a lot longer. So I just want to make sure that the elbow is where it needs to be."

Berkman, projected as the Cardinals' primary right fielder, hasn't played the outfield since 2007.

Tidbits

The Cardinals will work out inside the main stadium at the Roger Dean Stadium complex on Saturday. Manager Tony La Russa said he also hopes to have two intrasquad "coaches' games" over the weekend in advance of the club's Monday Grapefruit League opener against the Marlins. ... La Russa said Friday that Adam Ottavino, one of the more impressive players in camp in 2010, is at a disadvantage in the battle for the club's fifth-starter job as a result of the health problems that ended his '10 season prematurely. ... Right-hander Shelby Miller, the team's top prospect, likely will get fewer opportunities to pitch in Spring Training games in the wake of Adam Wainwright's injury. The opening in the starting rotation means that more pitchers will need to be stretched out for more innings to compete for the rotation spot, which may cost Miller an opportunity or two. La Russa said that he still expects Miller will appear in at least one Grapefruit League game.

Weather report: Saturday looks like another beautiful day for a workout, with morning temperatures in the low 70s as the Cardinals begin their workout, temps around 80 in the afternoon and no rain or clouds in the forecast.