SAN FRANCISCO -- In response to questions about the status of closer Ryan Franklin, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa has a question of his own: Who's better?

Franklin has three blown saves in four chances, already topping his total in 29 save opportunities in 2010. In each of the last two games, he's been partly a victim of circumstance, as balls that perhaps ought to have gone for outs did not. Still, Franklin has allowed nine baserunners in 3 2/3 innings, not a good ratio.

La Russa acknowledged that it's been a rough go for Franklin and didn't dismiss the questions out of hand. But to his eye, Franklin remains the club's best option in the ninth inning. The veteran righty was considered unavailable for Sunday's game after working extensively in the previous two games, but as soon as Monday, he would be the choice for a save chance.

"I don't see anything that's changed between anybody that's his competition," La Russa said. "I think Miguel [Batista] has done that, too, at times, but he also has a valuable role in other things. I think Mitchell [Boggs] and Jason [Motte] have bright futures, and they're developing in that role. Are they as ready as they're going to be? The answer is no."

Both pitching coach Dave Duncan and La Russa emphasized that they've seen a great deal to like from Franklin thus far. As much as anything, though, the issue from the club's perspective comes down to a simple belief that Franklin is their best option.

"Somebody's got to come up with somebody that's better on our club right now," La Russa said. "The fact is that right now those young guys aren't better."

Holliday returns to lineup after appendectomy

SAN FRANCISCO -- Matt Holliday hoped to return quickly from an emergency appendectomy, and as it turns out, he will.

According to Cardinals media relations, the club's head athletic trainer cleared Holliday to play on Sunday, and the slugger is in the St. Louis starting lineup. He will start in left field against the Giants and left-hander Barry Zito.

Holliday played on Opening Day, going 3-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs, but the next day he required an appendectomy. That was April 1, and he has not played since. Holliday missed seven games as a result of the procedure.

The typical recovery time for a baseball player from an appendectomy is two to four weeks, but the club expressed optimism all along that Holliday would beat that projection.

Baby Birds update

• Raul Valdes racked up nine strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings and Andrew Brown had a single, a triple, an RBI and a run scored as Triple-A Memphis beat Oklahoma City, 6-2, on Saturday.

• Ryan Jackson went 3-for-5 and Steven Hill homered in Double-A Springfield's 5-3 win over Frisco.

• Maikel Cleto pitched six strong innings, but Class A Palm Beach lost to St. Lucie, 3-2. Cleto allowed two runs, one earned, on three hits over six innings. He struck out seven and walked two.

• Class A Quad Cities split a doubleheader with Beloit, winning by an 8-1 score before losing, 7-3. Oscar Taveras was a combined 3-for-6 on the day with two walks, a home run, two runs and two RBIs.

Player of the day honors go to Quad Cities hurler Jordan Swagerty for an excellent regular-season professional debut. Swagerty pitched six shutout innings, striking out five with no walks and allowing four hits. The 21-year-old right-hander was the Cardinals' second-round Draft pick out of Arizona State in 2010. He pitched in the Arizona Fall League last year, making four relief appearances.

Tidbits

• Nick Punto could begin taking at-bats in extended spring training within the next few days, but he has not yet been cleared to run at game speed. Punto is recovering from surgery to repair a sports hernia, and general manager John Mozeliak said he remains encouraged by Punto's progress.

• Mozeliak also said that the Cardinals are not planning any adjustments to their Major League roster in response to the club's slow start.

• Lance Berkman was held out of Sunday's lineup despite a good history against Giants starter Barry Zito. Manager Tony La Russa said it was a close call, but he intends to start Berkman for the next several games in a row, and he wanted to give the outfielder a preventative day off Sunday.