HOUSTON -- The Cardinals had to make do without two of their most essential offensive players on Wednesday night, as Matt Holliday and Rafael Furcal remained unavailable due to injuries suffered earlier in the week.

Holliday aggravated an inflamed tendon in his right hand on Tuesday night and was removed from the Cardinals' win over the Astros. He was considered unavailable, though manager Tony La Russa indicated that in the direst of extra-inning emergencies, Holliday could conceivably see some time on the field.

The Cardinals left fielder and cleanup hitter would thus likely be out for a potential one-game tiebreaker in St. Louis on Thursday as well.

"If we were out of players, he'd go out there and grin and bear it," La Russa said, "but I put him down as not available. I think it would be doubtful for tomorrow."

Furcal, who is dealing with a left hamstring injury, was also considered off limits for Wednesday's game. And, like Holliday, his availability for potential games beyond Wednesday remains in question.

Duncan joins Cardinals in Houston

ST. LOUIS -- Pitching coach Dave Duncan made a rare appearance with the Cardinals on Wednesday, joining the club on what is likely a one-night-only basis.

Duncan has been on a leave of absence since late August as he tends to his wife, Jeanine, who underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor last month. Manager Tony La Russa invited Duncan to join the club for the last day of the regular season, and he made it down to Houston for the game.

"I'll go out there and we'll see what happens," said Duncan, who preferred to say little about his situation to reporters.

"We'll see how it works out."

La Russa acknowledged he was delighted to see his long-time lieutenant, but also continued to make it clear that Duncan's family is his first priority. Neither man ventured any opinion as to whether Duncan might be around for any additional games the Cardinals might play after Wednesday.

"We've taken his process with the guys who have been around him, and worked the process," La Russa said. "I think Derek [Lilliquist, bullpen coach has] done a good job, but we're doing Dave's work."

Cards to start Lohse if there's a tiebreaker

HOUSTON -- They have to get there first. But if the National League Wild Card race comes down to a 163rd game, both contenders have their starting pitchers set.

St. Louis will use right-hander Kyle Lohse, while Atlanta would pitch rookie Brandon Beachy in a potential one-game tiebreaker. The game would take place at 7:07 p.m. CT on Thursday at Busch Stadium.

Lohse, 32, is 14-8 with a 3.39 ERA, 111 strikeouts and 42 walks in 188 1/3 innings on the year. After a rough patch at midseason, he's had a strong September, turning in four straight quality starts with a 1.37 ERA for the month.

Beachy, 25, is 7-3 with a 3.68 ERA in 25 starts, having struck out 169 against 46 walks in 141 2/3 innings. He's struck out at least seven batters in nine straight starts, but has allowed 12 runs and 10 walks over his last three outings.


• Former Cardinal Jason LaRue visited the team on Wednesday. LaRue retired after the 2010 season due to a concussion.

• Eduardo Sanchez could be available to pitch on Thursday if the Cardinals have a one-game tiebreaker. Manager Tony La Russa sounded very excited about using the right-hander again following his impressive showing on Tuesday. Before Tuesday, Sanchez hadn't pitched since June because of a shoulder injury.

• David Freese returned to the No. 5 spot in the batting order on Wednesday after batting second in the previous two games. Allen Craig, subbing for the injured Matt Holliday, moved into the two spot.