With career-long Cardinals nemesis Ryan Howard already leading their lineup during this weekend's series, the Phillies will get a boost from another St. Louis-area native when Cody Asche returns from nearly a month on the disabled list.
Asche had been Philadelphia's starting third baseman but has been sidelined since May 22 with a strained left hamstring. Manager Ryne Sandberg said Thursday he expects Asche to be activated on Friday. Asche was batting .258 with four home runs before the injury.
"The main thing is just work at getting healthy," Asche, a native of O'Fallon, Mo., said. "When you're down there for that long of a time, you really just never want to go back again, so you want to be healthy and you don't want to rush anything. Obviously you want to play in the town you grew up in, but most importantly I just wanted to be healthy."
Asche will join a team that's won eight of its last 10 entering Friday's game, including a 4-1 victory over the Cardinals on Thursday. Howard has been a big part of that resurgence: He's batted .306 his last 10 games. The first baseman has always played well against his hometown team, and that trend continued Thursday when he went 2-for-4 with a home run.
"It's a big bat. It's one swing of the bat and the potential of a crooked number going up there," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said of Howard. " That goes a long way with the lineup and it allows the rest of the guys to do what they do and it allows guys to try to get on ahead of Ryan. When he can take one swing of the bat and put a crooked number up there, that's big, because in some ways we've lacked that."
The Phillies will send A.J. Burnett to the mound Friday. Burnett has struggled in St. Louis in his career, with a 13.50 ERA in four career starts at the current Busch Stadium. Last year with Pittsburgh, Burnett was rocked for seven runs over two innings in Game 1 of the National League Division Series in St. Louis, which cost him the chance to start Game 5 of the series.
For their part, the Cardinals have had solid pitching of late, entering Saturday with a 2.00 ERA over their past 10 games, allowing 20 earned runs in that span. On Friday, the ball will go to Jaime Garcia, who's making his seventh start since returning from the DL. Garcia has allowed one run over 14 innings in his last two starts.
"I just see Jaime going out and pitching," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "He's not in the same category as a lot of the other [young] guys. He's been around enough and has gone through those evolutions as a pitcher. It's just a matter of him being healthy. It's a matter of him being consistent, being in a good frame of mind as far as how he feels about his stuff. I think he's going good right now, in a good spot."
Cardinals: Wacha to skip start
The Phillies will avoid facing Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha this weekend, as St. Louis decided on Thursday to skip Wacha's next start, scheduled for Sunday.
Wacha, who threw a combined 180 1/3 innings in 2013, said he was feeling some fatigue over his last couple starts, and the move is a precautionary measure to ensure that the 22-year-old is not pushed too far. Carlos Martinez will start in his place.
"There have definitely been times over the last couple starts where I was maybe getting a little bit tired," said Wacha, who has allowed eight runs on 16 hits and seven walks in his three June starts. "Obviously, I want to be out there every fifth day. But we have Carlos in a situation where he's able to fill in; he's already stretched out a little bit. I guess it's that time to do it."
Phillies: Rupp called up for reinforcement at catcher
Phillies backup catcher Wil Nieves was feeling better Thursday, one day after he felt a pop in his right quadriceps while running to second base on a one-out double in the ninth inning of a 10-5 win over Atlanta.
That didn't keep the team from calling in a reinforcement to St. Louis. The Phillies on Thursday recalled catcher Cameron Rupp from Triple-A Lehigh Valley, optioning outfielder Aaron Altherr to Double-A Reading to make room on the roster.
• Jimmy Rollins enters Friday with a 13-game hit streak, his longest since his 2007 MVP season, when he had a 14-game streak.
• Over the last two years, the Cardinals are 22-5 against National League East opponents at Busch Stadium, outscoring the opposition 117-63 in those games.
• Rosemary Depler, a 101-year-old Cardinals fan, will throw out a ceremonial first pitch at Busch Stadium before Friday's game, coinciding with Lutheran Senior Services Night at the Ballpark.
Caitlin Swieca is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.