ST. LOUIS -- While a 2012 return still remains unlikely and unexpected, first baseman Lance Berkman refused to rule it out on Wednesday.
Such an assertion is surprising, given that the Cardinals characterized Berkman's right knee surgery last week as season-ending. The procedure, Berkman's second of the season on that knee, repaired a torn meniscus and removed additional cartilage. There is typically a four-to-six week recovery time after the surgery.
And yet ...
"I'm not ruling out a return by the end of the regular season with the way it feels. I'm not ruling it in either," Berkman said. "I'm hopeful that if I can get the swelling calmed down from the surgery. All of these are big ifs, but I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility. It felt good enough [Tuesday] just walking around on it that I thought it might be a possibility."
Berkman's knee never felt right after he got hit by a Clayton Kershaw pitch on July 24. The impact came less than two months after Berkman underwent surgery on that knee. Berkman has logged only 21 plate appearances since that incident.
"It dissolved from there and never really felt right after that," Berkman said. "But now it feels right again. It's still sore from the surgery. I can still tell I have some swelling. The things that they did made it feel like at least it's operating normally."
Whether he works his way back toward playing or not, Berkman will continue to be a presence in the clubhouse. He will be around for all remaining home games and will join the Cardinals at Houston next week. Berkman said he also intends to travel with the club if it advances to the postseason.
While Berkman has alluded to potential retirement after the season, he did not declare anything in certain terms on Wednesday. Berkman said he will wait to see what interest he draws as a free agent and how his knee continues to respond post-surgery.
Asked about the possibility of extending his career by sliding into a role as a designated hitter, Berkman did not sound overly interested in such an option.
"I'm not ruling anything out, but by the same token, as I sit today, it's not something that I'm super interested in," Berkman said. "If I don't feel good enough to play the field ... I wouldn't want to just limp around as a DH. If I can't get the thing to where I feel like it's pretty close to 100 percent, then I'm not going to fool with it."
Westbrook reports positive results from session
ST. LOUIS -- Shortly after throwing 40 to 45 pitches in a bullpen session on Wednesday, Jake Westbrook reported that all "feels good" and that he anticipates returning to the mound for a second bullpen on Friday.
That could, Westbrook said, represent the final benchmark before the right-hander is inserted back into the Cardinals' rotation.
"It was great," said Westbrook, who hadn't been on the mound since straining his right oblique during his Sept. 8 start. "It felt better than I thought it was going to. The two days of playing catch [earlier this week] helped. I felt really good. I didn't feel anything with my side. That's encouraging."
If Westbrook comes back next week, the Cardinals will have the option of pitching him as many as two times before the end of the regular season.
Because of the fluidity of the rotation, St. Louis has not publically projected its rotation beyond Sunday, when Kyle Lohse will make his next start. Not only are the Cardinals waiting for Westbrook's status to become better defined, but the club also needs to see how Chris Carpenter's season debut goes on Friday before confirming when his second start would be.
Furcal hoping to contribute again in 2012
ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal, though back with his teammates this homestand, remains uncertain whether he'll be able to contribute in any way before the end of the 2012 season.
Furcal, shut down due to a right elbow strain, was required to avoid any right arm exercises for two weeks after receiving a platelet-rich plasma injection on Sept. 4. That two-week window has passed, but Furcal said on Wednesday that he has no plans to resume throwing any time soon.
"They don't want me trying," Furcal said, referring to the team's medical staff. "I don't want to try. I don't want to hurt [my arm] worse and then have to get surgery."
If Furcal can heal without surgery, he is expected to be recovered fully by the start of Spring Training. If surgery is needed, a recovery time of six to eight months is expected.
Furcal continues to frequent the workout room, where he is focused on keeping his lower body strong. He has not ruled out the possibility of returning this season in a limited capacity. He could, for instance, be an asset as a pinch-runner.
"I wish I can come back this year and be available to do something," Furcal said. "Now, I feel like I'm not doing anything for my team."
Cards bringing Class A team back to Peoria
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals and the Midwest League Peoria Chiefs announced a four-year player development agreement on Wednesday that will bring St. Louis' Low-A affiliate back to central Illinois.
The Cardinals did not renew their contract with Quad Cities (Iowa), which had been a part of the organization's Minor League system since 2005.
Peoria has had a connection with the Cardinals before. The Cardinals based a Minor League club there from 1954-56 and again from 1995-2004. Current players Yadier Molina, Jason Motte and Kyle McClellan all spent time in Peoria during their rise in the Cardinals' system.
The Low-A affiliation change is one of two that the Cardinals have made this week. On Monday, the club announced that it would be moving its short-season club in the New York-Penn League from Batavia (N.Y.) to State College (Pa.).
Boggs says he's fine despite recent struggles
ST. LOUIS -- While blaming back tightness would have been the simplest way for Mitchell Boggs to explain his eighth-inning troubles on Tuesday, Boggs reiterated a day after the 25-pitch appearance that he felt no discomfort during the outing.
On Sunday, Boggs was ruled unavailable due to lower back tightness, something that plagued him on two different occasions in 2011. With treatment and time off, Boggs informed the medical staff on Tuesday that the discomfort had fully subsided.
That put Boggs in position to be called upon by manager Mike Matheny in Tuesday's series opener after starter Kyle Lohse wrapped up a seven-inning performance against the Astros. Boggs allowed three hits and one earned run, and could not close out the eighth.
"I felt OK," Boggs said on Wednesday. "Maybe I was protecting it a little more than I should have been. Later in the inning, I was letting it go pretty good. It's not an issue. I felt good today."
Boggs said he will continue to undergo treatment on his back in order to try and prevent any recurring issues.
The Astros announced on Wednesday that Thursday's scheduled starter Bud Norris is dealing with flu-like symptoms. If Norris has to be scratched, right-hander Edgar Gonzalez will step in to pitch the series finale. Gonzalez (2-1, 4.40 ERA) is currently slated to start on Friday.
Chris Carpenter, who will be making his season debut on Friday, will be limited in an undisclosed pitch count. Carpenter threw 95 pitches in his final simulated game. That was the most stringent workload he's handled since 2011.
Before this three-game series ends on Thursday, the Cardinals will surpass the three-million mark in season attendance. This is the ninth straight year that the Cards will have drawn at least three million fans. St. Louis entered Wednesday averaging 40,358 fans per game.
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.