ST. LOUIS -- Given a chance to join the big league club when Scott Linebrink was sidelined, Victor Marte has capitalized on the chance to make an impression.
Though he did not make the Cardinals' Opening Day roster, Marte has proved not to be a weak link in a St. Louis bullpen that entered Sunday with the National League's second-lowest ERA (2.80). The 31-year-old right-hander has made his mark not only with his results but by routinely getting those results in tight spots.
Marte earned his first hold on Saturday when he retired all three Brewers he faced in an 11-pitch seventh inning. He struck out two. Marte has pitched the seventh inning in each of his last three appearances. In 9 2/3 innings this season, Marte has allowed three runs on five hits and has struck out eight.
"It was nice to get him a good opportunity to be seen in Spring Training and realize that he pitches well in pressure situations," manager Mike Matheny said. "We put him in spots like that in the spring and he thrived and got out of jams. He's got a knack of not really getting rattled, plus he has good stuff. It's been a good fit."
It's been such a good fit that the Cardinals will have a tougher-than-anticipated decision to make when Linebrink comes off the disabled list in May. It's still likely that Marte will be squeezed from the spot because everyone else in the bullpen has also pitched so well. Minor League options -- and Marte has one left -- also would allow the Cardinals to send Marte down without exposing him to other clubs.
Cards could activate Craig from DL on Tuesday
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals plan to re-evaluate Allen Craig's status after he plays first base in Triple-A Memphis' Sunday afternoon game. There is a possibility that, if all continues to go well, Craig will be activated from the disabled list before the Cardinals start a series against the Pirates on Tuesday.
"All I need to see is the green light medically," manager Mike Matheny said. "That's really about it."
Sunday represented another rung of progress for Craig, who had been limited to serving as a designated hitter in the first five games he played on this Minor League rehab assignment. With Lance Berkman sidelined, the Cardinals would use Craig regularly at first base when he does return.
Despite optimism late in Spring Training that Craig would not need to start the year on the DL, he is poised to come off right at the time the Cardinals had initially projected when the first baseman/outfielder underwent November knee surgery.
Craig entered Sunday 7-for-20 in his first five games in the Minors. Throughout his time away from the team, Craig has stayed in regular touch with Cardinals hitting coach Mark McGwire to talk about approach and swing mechanics.
While Craig will have a position to start at when he rejoins the club, finding him a spot in the lineup will be Matheny's other task. Craig would profile well as a two-hole hitter, but Jon Jay has thrived hitting there lately. Matheny is not expected to tinker with the middle of the order, meaning that Jay or Craig would likely drop down to hit seventh.
"It'll work itself out, wherever it is," Matheny said. "We've been looking forward to getting him back since we started talking about it."
Matheny wants Furcal to focus on small ball
ST. LOUIS -- Hours after Cardinals manager Mike Matheny lauded Rafael Furcal's overhauled approach, the shortstop reverted back to some bad habits on Saturday.
Matheny has credited Furcal's quick start to his willingness to return to the slashing, small-ball approach that helped him establish himself in the Majors many years ago. Furcal often discarded that for the chance to drive more balls last year, which then turned into the worst offensive year of his career. He fell into that same trap for much of Spring Training, and again, the results were not near expectation.
"He knows that when he has power, that should be an absolute accident," Matheny said. "I think he's having fun again right now realizing that he can be that guy that gets on base. I hope he hits [zero] home runs and does exactly what he's doing. He'll have a phenomenal year if he stays with that approach."
For the most part, Furcal has stuck with the approach. He's ridden it, too, to a .310 batting average and .383 on-base percentage to begin the year. On Saturday, all four outs he hit into were fly balls.
"That's more the mentality that he got into a couple hitters' counts and got big [with his swing] again," Matheny said. "He knows that can lead to some bad things, so hopefully he makes the adjustment [Sunday]."
Furcal did in his first at-bat, chopping a single through the middle of the field. That was his first hit in eight at-bats this homestand. He followed with an RBI single down the third-base line in the second.
Cards seeing lack of lefty opponents on hill
ST. LOUIS -- There was a point late in Spring Training when manager Mike Matheny expressed satisfaction with the collective improvement he was seeing from his club against left-handed pitching. Since then, though, the Cardinals have had minimal opportunity to see if there would be any carryover effect from that spring success.
The team continues to draw an imbalance of right-handed starters, so much so that they will end up facing only three left-handed starters in 22 April games. St. Louis won't face another lefty until Thursday, when it sees Pittsburgh's Erik Bedard for the second time this year. The Cardinals have won all three games they've faced a lefty starter.
The absence of lefties has also hurt Tyler Greene's chances of finding much rhythm at the plate. He was expected to get the majority of second-base starts against southpaws, especially while Skip Schumaker was recovering from an oblique strain.
The Cardinals are scheduled to face the same three Pirates starters they saw last weekend in their upcoming home series against Pittsburgh. Charlie Morton will go on Tuesday and will be followed by A.J. Burnett and Erik Bedard. The Cardinals took two of three against the Pirates in the first season series.
Several Cardinals players spent Saturday night down the road at the Scottrade Center, where the NHL's Blues faced the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the Western Conference semifinals. Among those in attendance to see the Kings' 3-1 win were Rafael Furcal, Carlos Beltran, Kyle McClellan, Erik Komatsu, Victor Marte, Chris Carpenter and Lance Lynn.
Outfielder Adron Chambers recorded four hits in Triple-A Memphis' 12-4 loss on Saturday. Chambers, who is on St. Louis' 40-man roster, is batting .299 in his first 20 games of the season.
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.