Outlook: Molina provides impressive consistency

JUPITER, Fla. -- The Cardinals do not intend to pull back the reins on Yadier Molina's playing time during the regular season, but have decided to prepare him for that heavy workload by reducing what he does in spring.

Molina will not play in Friday's Grapefruit League opener as part of the Cardinals' plan to slowly ease him into game action. This is not an indicator that Molina is again dealing with right knee inflammation, which landed him on the disabled list last summer. His knees are giving him no issues, and Molina has participated in every scheduled workout drill thus far.

Rather, this is the Cardinals' way of attempting to preserve Molina for when the games matter most.

"If we're going to be proactive and give him a little bit of rest, it's nice to do it in February or early March," manager Mike Matheny said. "Then you don't have to do it in June or July. Everything we'll be smart with. Once we get the season going, it comes down to how he is feeling and how the body is responding."

Molina will make regular appearances in Grapefruit League games once the exhibition schedule nears its end. The Cardinals, as they do with every player, have a targeted number of at-bats they would like Molina to get. They also value having him catch as many pitchers as possible so there is a familiarity going into the season.

Molina has become the poster boy for durability behind the plate and has started at least 128 games as catcher in each of the last five seasons.

Swagerty sidelined with elbow inflammation

Top Prospects: Jordan Swagerty, RHP, Cardinals

JUPITER, Fla. -- Right-hander Jordan Swagerty, who has spent much of the past two years recovering from elbow injuries, has had to halt his throwing program due to inflammation in his right elbow.

The issue surfaced after Swagerty's fourth bullpen session of the spring and, as a result, he hasn't taken the mound since Thursday. Tests have ruled out any concern of another structural issue -- Swagerty has already had Tommy John surgery and bone spurs removed -- but instead believe it to be a byproduct of the 24-year-old getting back into the routine of throwing.

Since having to stop his Spring Training throwing program in 2012, Swagerty has pitched only 10 2/3 innings. The rest of the time was spent rehabbing and dealing with a nerve issue in his forearm. This year, he looked forward to putting all that behind him and reclaiming his place as a prospect in the organization.

"It's been a long journey," Swagerty said. "I'm not discouraged yet, because it's nothing serious this time, which is positive. I'd like to come here and be healthy and be able to compete, obviously. But at the end of the day, I know it's not anything serious. There is still some relief for me knowing that I was able to work on things and throw the ball hard and feel good. To come in the next day and feel sore, that's not the worst thing that could happen."

"It would be pure speculation, but obviously a guy coming back from Tommy John, it's not uncommon to have that happen from time to time," said general manager John Mozeliak. "I think I would attribute it more to sort of the length of time he hasn't been able to throw and then ratchet it up."

Manager Mike Matheny said that the Cardinals' medical staff detected "some weakness" in the elbow when they examined Swagerty. At this time, the Cardinals do not have plans for Swagerty to seek an additional opinion outside the organization. Though he remains unable to throw, Swagerty is still participating in other portions of the pitchers' spring workouts.

"Right now, what we're going to do is take it day by day and see where he is," Mozeliak said. "He's not cleared to throw and until he is, it's another hurdle that he has to clear."

Taveras getting closer to full strength

Matheny discusses Taveras' rehab progression at camp

JUPITER, Fla. -- Cardinals top prospect Oscar Taveras increased the intensity of his running on Monday and continues to creep closer to being entirely uninhibited in his workouts.

Taveras, who had right ankle surgery in August, estimated that he pushed himself at an "80 percent" effort level during Monday's conditioning work. He likely won't be included in the Cardinals' lineup for their Grapefruit League opener on Friday, but his spring debut should not come that much later.

The organization is merely taking its time building Taveras up to full speed. Running the bases and changing directions while sprinting are some of the last hurdles Taveras still has to clear.

"He's got plenty of time to continue to get ready and move in a good direction without limitations," manager Mike Matheny said. "To have everybody ready is nice to have. But if we can push guys back a little bit, that's all right as long as they're still getting better."

Taveras, 21, is candid about his goal of breaking into the Majors in 2014 -- and should he stay healthy, he likely will. The Cardinals are open-minded about considering him for an Opening Day roster spot, but are also waiting to see how he is affected by missing so much time last year.

Taveras was limited to 174 at-bats in 47 games before the ankle injury ended his 2013 season.

"I feel good. I feel ready for the season," Taveras said after Monday's workout. "I feel good when I'm hitting, too. I hit live today, and I felt great. I'm ready to play, but I don't know what's going to happen this year. I'm just going to play hard."

Worth noting

• Mozeliak said that the organization will have an announcement regarding Jaime Garcia's status on Tuesday, not Monday afternoon as initially expected. Garcia, who began experiencing left shoulder discomfort last week, flew to St. Louis to have an MRI on Monday.

• Single-game tickets for the Cardinals' 2014 season will go on sale at 10 a.m. CT on Friday and can be purchased by visiting cardinals.com, calling 314-345-9000 or stopping by Busch Stadium. For fans who wish to purchase tickets to at least three games, there is an online opportunity to secure those tickets on Wednesday.

• The Cardinals held their annual photo day on Monday, during which players rotated through several stations to have their pictures taken by baseball card companies, media outlets and others.