ST. LOUIS -- Shortly after a visit with two members of the Cardinals' medical staff finalized the team's decision to place Lance Berkman on the 15-day disabled list, the veteran first baseman spoke strongly about his intentions to return to the field in 2012.
Berkman plans to play again this year. And his return, he said, could come before the end of the month.
The latest diagnosis in a season full of them for Berkman is right knee inflammation, an issue that has been bugging Berkman since he was hit on his surgically-repaired right knee by a July 24 pitch from Clayton Kershaw. While all the work Berkman had done to strengthen his knee in the weeks after the late-May procedure wasn't erased, Berkman hasn't felt the same since that plunking.
"It just set the whole thing back," Berkman said. "The muscle that comes over the knee doesn't have enough strength now. It just needs to get stronger. As far as how long it set it back, I don't know. It's not like I just got hurt again. It's certainly stronger than that. But it's not where it needs to be."
Berkman played through the instability, but it was obvious when his knee gave out on him during his final at-bat on Thursday that rest and rehab would be the only way to properly allow his knee to heal.
"I have to get it strong," said Berkman, who has gone 2-for-11 since being hit by that Kershaw pitch. "It's hard to get the kind of work that you need to do and play at the same time because you have to exhaust it."
That strength work begins immediately for Berkman, who has spent more time off the field in 2012 than on it. A year removed from earning Comeback Player-of-the-Year honors, Berkman missed most of the season's first half with a left calf strain and then a right knee injury.
He's accrued a total of 75 at-bats, but hit just .133 in the 33 since returning from knee surgery. Getting the stability he's needed to swing right-handed has particularly been an issue.
"It's been frustrating," Berkman said. "Baseball season is so much about getting into a good rhythm, getting into a good routine. My goodness, if you would have told me that I'd have two homers and seven RBIs in late August, I would have laughed at you. I don't know what else to do about it. You just show up and try to get it ready to go."
The Cardinals do have the luxury of moving on without taking a substantial hit from Berkman's absence. Allen Craig will handle the majority of playing time at first base. And assuming Berkman does return this season, he'll provide manager Mike Matheny a potent bat off the bench.
As for his baseball future (and if there will be one) beyond 2012, Berkman isn't ready to address that just yet. He is not signed beyond this season.
"Those are the kind of questions that I'm trying to put off until the offseason," Berkman said. "It's hard to make a good decision about that thing while you're in the middle of kind of going through the thing. Those are better analyzed in the perspective of the offseason and seeing how the rest of the year goes. We'll just see what happens."
Furcal, Molina return to Cardinals lineup
ST. LOUIS -- Despite learning that right knee troubles will sideline first baseman Lance Berkman for at least the next two weeks, the Cardinals did have a pair of positive medical reports to pass along on Friday.
After separate meetings with the team doctor on Friday, Rafael Furcal (lower back stiffness) and Yadier Molina (right thumb bruise) were both cleared to return to the field.
In Molina's case, an X-ray confirmed that the catcher did not fracture his thumb during an awkward slide into first base on Wednesday. Diagnosed with only a bone bruise, Molina tested his ability to grip and throw on Friday afternoon. He looked good enough for manager Mike Matheny to insert Molina into the sixth spot in Friday's lineup.
"It feels OK," Molina said of his thumb. "I was thinking it was something worse. Thank God it's only a bruise."
Furcal's situation had been improving over the last few days, so it did not come as much of a surprise to see him back in the leadoff spot on Friday. He lobbied to play while the team was in Colorado this week, but the Cardinals wanted Furcal to first be cleared by team physician Dr. George Paletta in St. Louis.
Whether the Cardinals will be more liberal in giving Furcal days off during the final two months is something the team has not publicly stated. Injuries have limited Furcal to fewer than 100 games played in three of the last four seasons. As a result, there is certainly reason to consider resting Furcal more regularly so that his chances of being strong late in the year improve.
"We just have to see how he reacts every day," Matheny said. "Hopefully, they've got a plan for what they're trying to accomplish to try and stay ahead of this. His body will tell us."
With Berkman on DL, Robinson recalled
ST. LOUIS -- Three weeks ago, Shane Robinson lost his roster spot when Lance Berkman returned from knee surgery. Now, with Berkman sidelined again, Robinson takes his job back.
The Cardinals recalled the outfielder from Triple-A on Friday and wasted no time getting Robinson involved again. He started in center field in the team's series opener against the Brewers.
"It's great to be back," Robinson said. "I missed all these guys. Just being here for a good part of the season and then having to go down there for a little while, you just miss being up here."
Robinson hit .265 during his 17-game stint after the July demotion. The biggest adjustment, he noted, was getting back into the routine of playing every day. Much of Robinson's time with St. Louis has been spent on the bench. He hit .256 overall and went 7-for-29 as a pinch-hitter.
With Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter available to play first base, the Cardinals did not need to fill Berkman's spot with another first baseman. That allowed the club to instead improve its outfield depth. Adding Robinson gives St. Louis a right-handed hitting outfielder to complement the left-handed hitting Jon Jay.
It should also limit the number of appearances Carlos Beltran will need to make again in center field. While Beltran is plenty of capable of playing the position, the wear-and-tear on his knees is likely less if he sticks in right field.
Left-hander Jaime Garcia will have a pitch count of about 60 when he makes a start for Double-A Springfield on Saturday. The rehab appearance will be Garcia's second. He has been on the disabled list with a left shoulder impingement since June 6.
The Cardinals' celebration of the 30th anniversary of their 1982 World Championship began on Friday with former closer Bruce Sutter throwing out a ceremonial first pitch to current closer Jason Motte. Members of that '82 team have gathered in St. Louis to be honored over the three-game series.
Though the non-waiver trade period passed on Tuesday, clubs are currently in the process of scouring the waiver wire for potential August acquisitions. Said general manager John Mozeliak: "We're going to pay attention to it. I'm sure we'll put some claims in, if necessary. But many of them you'll never even know about."
That's because a claim, more often than not, does not lead to a player changing teams. Clubs have the option of pulling their players off waivers once claimed. Or, if a team is interested in parting ways with a player, it can either work out a trade with the club that claimed that player or can force that team to take the player without receiving anything in return.
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.