ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals opened a three-game series against the division-rival Reds on Tuesday, and they did so with their offense back at full strength.
For the first time in a week, manager Mike Matheny was able to pen a lineup without needing to work around injury limitations. Lance Berkman's absence was the longest, as the first baseman sat for four games while nursing a left calf strain. He contended that he felt well enough to play over the weekend, but soggy field conditions and a hot-hitting Matt Carpenter led the Cardinals to give their first baseman the additional time off.
Berkman's return allowed Matheny to move Carlos Beltran back into the No. 2 hole. Beltran -- who hit a solo homer in the first inning Tuesday -- left Sunday's game with right forearm tightness, but he informed the Cardinals on Tuesday that his arm is now fine. Ice and acupuncture seemed to do the trick for Beltran, who was hit in that arm by a pitch on Sunday. He exited three innings later when he had some trouble throwing at full strength.
Batting behind Berkman was David Freese, who missed the past two games against the Cubs due to irritation of his right ring finger. That irritation led to some weakness in Freese's hand. Even with the missed time, Freese still led the club with 11 RBIs entering Tuesday. Only four players in the National League had driven in more.
With all three healthy, Matheny went with the lineup he used for four of the first five games. The Cards won three of those contests. Last year, under manager Tony La Russa, St. Louis didn't employ the same batting order five times all season. La Russa used two different batting orders four times apiece.
Even without the recent aid of some of their biggest bats, the Cardinals entered Tuesday leading the league in team batting average (.299), runs scored (57), hits (105) and home runs (15).
Club taking it slow with Schumaker, Craig
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals intend to proceed conservatively with Skip Schumaker and Allen Craig, both of whom are in differing phases of their rehab work. That's a luxury the Cardinals seem to be able to afford, too, given how well their bench players have performed through the first 10 games.
Manager Mike Matheny said it's "probably too early" to expect Schumaker to have his Minor League rehab stint completed in time for him to return for this weekend's three-game series in Pittsburgh. Schumaker began his rehab assignment with Triple-A Memphis on Sunday and has gone 1-for-6 in two games.
Schumaker played five innings at second base on Sunday. On Monday, he played seven innings in right field. Schumaker was not in the starting lineup on Tuesday.
Before leaving for the rehab assignment, Schumaker estimated that he'd probably need about 20 Minor League at-bats before he'd feel ready. He accrued just 21 in Spring Training before suffering a right oblique strain. Schumaker also knows the effect of trying to come back too quickly. He rushed through his rehab work last spring and then had just five hits in his first 33 at-bats.
"I think that was pretty clear when he went out to Memphis, that it's not just to get yourself healthy, but to get yourself right," Matheny said. "He'll be getting a good test in Triple-A."
The Cardinals are optimistic that Craig (right knee) will return to game action before the end of the week. Craig, who has returned to the organization's Florida complex, will likely ease into play by first appearing in extended spring games. Doing so would allow Craig a more controlled environment -- he could hit without playing the field, for instance -- and it wouldn't start his Minor League rehab clock.
Once Craig begins to appear in Minor League games, his rehab assignment will have a cap of 20 days.
Craig hasn't appeared in a game since March 24, when he played in a Minor League Spring Training game. At the time, the Cardinals were hopeful that Craig might be advancing quickly enough to be a part of the team's Opening Day roster. Those plans were reworked when Craig's knee began to swell after he took 10 at-bats in the Minor League game.
The Cards have not characterized the slowdown as a setback, but regardless of semantics, that appears to have been what happened when Craig pushed himself during those spring games.
"What happened was I think a few of us, myself included, was a little overanxious trying to get him back and thinking we would take him anyway we could get him," Matheny said. "I think all of us look at the roster, saw him and the ability to have that kind of right-handed bat in the lineup, you try and push it a little bit. That's what we were guilty of."
While Craig and Schumaker are expected to boost the strength of the team's bench, the Cardinals have, in the meantime, received more than satisfactory production from their bench. The team has four hits in 11 pinch-hit at-bats, and Matt Carpenter, Erik Komatsu and Shane Robinson all have batting averages above .300.
Cards have five of first 59 picks in '12 Draft
ST. LOUIS -- Major League Baseball has finalized the selection order for the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, and that order features five of the first 59 picks going to the Cardinals.
St. Louis acquired four compensation picks due to player departures this winter. Albert Pujols' decision to sign with the Angels landed the Cards two of those picks. They take Los Angeles' first-round selection (No. 19 overall), as well as a compensation pick (No. 36). In between, St. Louis will also make its own first-round selection (No. 23).
The club also landed picks for losing Type B free agents Octavio Dotel (No. 52) and Edwin Jackson (No. 59). The Cardinals are the only team that will select five players through the first 59 picks. Toronto has five of the first 60 selections. The first overall selection will go to the Astros, who had the Majors' worst record in 2011.
The three-day Draft will begin at 6 p.m. CT on June 4, and all Day 1 picks will be televised live on MLB Network and MLB.com. Rounds two through 10 will follow on June 5, with the Draft then concluding the next day. Baseball's new Basic Agreement has shortened the Draft from 50 rounds to 40.
Scott Linebrink (right shoulder capsulitis) joined a member of the Cardinals' training staff on the outfield grass during the team's batting practice to again test his arm while throwing on flat ground. Linebrink, who is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list, has not pitched off a mound since late in Spring Training.
The status of right-hander Chris Carpenter (nerve inflammation) remains unchanged. He continues to work through shoulder strengthening exercises and has not moved onto the throwing portion of his program.
Outfielder Oscar Taveras went 3-for-5 for Double-A Springfield on Monday, bumping his early season average to .311. Taveras, whom MLB.com ranked as the Cardinals' third-best prospect, made the jump to Double-A this season after playing in low Class A last year. He has four doubles, two triples, two homers and 11 RBIs through 10 games.
The high concentration of off-days early in the season has allowed manager Mike Matheny the ability to keep starting catcher Yadier Molina in the lineup. Including Tuesday's series opener against the Reds, Molina has started 10 of the team's first 11 games. Molina, who leads the Majors in games caught over the past three seasons, is set to get at least one day off during this upcoming stretch, which includes nine straight days of play before the team's next off-day.
The Cardinals will hold a ceremony on Wednesday afternoon during which they will distribute $133,000 to 71 nearby non-profit groups that work with children. Cardinals Care has already given out nearly $11 million in grants over the last 15 years. That money had been dispersed among more than 800 non-profit youth organizations, and it has led to the construction of 19 youth baseball fields in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.