JUPITER, Fla. -- Cardinals right-hander Chris Carpenter took another step in the right direction on Friday, when he stepped onto the bullpen mound and threw 30 fastballs to catcher Steven Hill. The mound session came 13 days after Carpenter's last one, and the right-hander said afterward that it actually went a little better than he had hoped.
Carpenter was cleared to return to the mound after reporting no neck stiffness during back-to-back days of throwing off flat ground. He estimated that he threw at 70-75 percent effort on Friday.
"I felt good," Carpenter said. "The neck feels good. My arm feels good. Hopefully the next step [will be] either we do that again in a day or so, or we do some live [batting practice] to try and move it in the right direction."
What that next step will be remains unknown. The Cardinals were going to reevaluate Carpenter after Friday's work, and the right-hander wants to make sure he wakes up with no issues on Saturday. Assuming that's the case, Carpenter could be back on the mound as early as Sunday.
A more concrete timeline -- including when Carpenter would be ready for Grapefruit League games -- could come after he throws off the mound next. Manager Mike Matheny said that he wouldn't necessarily have to see Carpenter throw a batting-practice session before feeling comfortable moving him into game action.
As it concerns his neck, Carpenter's attention has now turned from treatment to strengthening work so that he can decrease the chances of stiffness becoming an issue again. Carpenter said that the club had initially indicated that he would likely undergo a second MRI exam to see if the bulging disc had moved back into place. That MRI has, at this point, not been scheduled.
Cards concerned as Schumaker hurts oblique
JUPITER, Fla. -- Skip Schumaker left Friday's game early after suffering a right oblique injury during his fourth-inning at-bat. Schumaker had little to say about the injury postgame, but did characterize it as worse than the strain he endured last fall.
That injury, which Schumaker sustained during Game 5 of the National League Division Series, kept Schumaker off the NL Championship Series roster. He did return to play in the World Series.
While the Cardinals don't yet know the severity of the injury, manager Mike Matheny used the word "concern" when asked about Schumaker. He was also disappointed in himself for not stepping in to perhaps prevent the injury. One pitch before Schumaker felt his side really tighten, Matheny caught Schumaker's attention. The first-year Cardinals manager thought he saw something wrong.
"I asked if he was all right, and he told me that he was," Matheny said. "My gut told me that he wasn't, and [I] let him [keep hitting]. That made it worse. Neither of us did the right thing."
Schumaker, who was the designated hitter in the game, ended up grounding out. He was pinch-hit for in his next at-bat.
"I'm still learning all their idiosyncrasies up close," Matheny said. "I've watched them all, obviously, for a while. But there are guys that [wince] every time they take a swing. But that one, I saw it, and I didn't follow through."
Oblique injuries often have the tendency to linger, making it tough to establish a timeline as to how long Schumaker might be sidelined. Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn missed nearly two months with an oblique strain last season. Matheny noted that he was out a month when he suffered one during his playing career.
Schumaker was in the middle of a three-way competition for the starting second-base job. He had also been getting regular work in the outfield in case he ended up in a utility bench role.
Descalso has stats, but competition ongoing
JUPITER, Fla. -- If Spring Training statistics carried significant weight, the Cardinals' second-base competition would be all but wrapped up. The job would belong to Daniel Descalso, who has already tallied more hits than Tyler Greene and Skip Schumaker combined.
But pure batting average is not the measure that manager Mike Matheny will use to determine who he wants at second base on Opening Day. Rather, the evaluation continues with the idea that process carries more weight than results.
"They don't put your Spring Training stats on your bubblegum card," Matheny said, emphasizing the caution needed when making Spring Training evaluations based on box scores. "We're 12 games into a spring. Is there enough reason to be excited about Daniel Descalso? Absolutely. I just think there's reason to be excited about the other guys, too."
Matheny did add, though, that this is a pivotal point in the spring for Greene, who, in the past, has been hindered by trying too hard to prove himself. While Greene has looked mostly comfortable playing a fairly unfamiliar defensive position, the hits haven't fallen. After an 0-for-2 day that included two strikeouts on Friday, Greene now has just three hits in 22 at-bats.
Matheny emphasized again on Friday that, as a whole, he still likes what he has seen out of Greene's approach at the plate this month, even if there are few results to reinforce that.
"Once he slows down and trusts his hands, he's putting together some pretty good at-bats," Matheny said. "He just needs to keep trusting it. If he starts listening to all the garbage, you start to believe it. I'm going to be encouraging him not to, but that's something only he can control. I'm still real impressed with how he's playing the position at second, and the majority of the at-bats he's taken, he's close. There are positives we're going to continue to focus on."
Descalso, who reached base in one of two plate appearances on Friday, is batting .409 in Grapefruit League play. The Cardinals continue to use him across the infield, though Descalso is also trying to prove he deserves an everyday job. Defensively, he has been sound all spring.
"I'm very happy with everything Danny does," Matheny said. "I appreciate him as an all-around player -- the way he comes to work every day, he brings his lunch pail and he's ready to do what needs to be done. But we still have a long way to go."
Schumaker's place in this competition could be affected by an oblique injury that he suffered on Friday. If Schumaker is out for any length of time -- and that usually is the case with these types of injuries -- that would likely remove him from consideration for the starting second-base job.
Berkman back in action after knee soreness
JUPITER, Fla. -- After pestering his manager to put him back in the lineup, Lance Berkman had his request granted on Friday. Batting fifth and playing first base, Berkman went 1-for-4 after missing four days while dealing with left knee soreness.
Berkman reported feeling no discomfort with the knee during his seven innings on the field in Friday's 5-0 win over the Marlins.
"Hopefully that's behind us," Berkman said. "You definitely have to pace yourself and listen to your body when it tells you to back off. Part of getting ready to play the regular season is getting re-acclimated to all the movements that you have when you're playing games."
Berkman, who is now 3-for-8 this spring, expects to play fairly regularly during the final two weeks of Grapefruit League games. That includes making the approximate three-hour drive to Lakeland, Fla., on Saturday to be in the Cardinals' game against the Tigers.
"I think you have to develop a rhythm," Berkman said. "I'm a guy that needs to kind of see where I'm at. It never hurts to have the reps. You can definitely get stale. I probably need to play as much as I can the rest of camp."
Television analyst Cal Eldred, who has been with the Cardinals as a guest instructor this spring, will serve as interim bullpen coach beginning on Friday. Bullpen coach Dyar Miller lost an older brother in a logging accident on Wednesday and will be returning home to attend the funeral.
Matt Holliday raised his spring average to .500 with a 2-for-3 showing on Friday. He collected just his second extra-base hit, though, with his third-inning home run.
The Cardinals entered Friday's game leading the National League with a Spring Training on-base percentage of .364 and 47 walks. St. Louis drew another five free passes off Marlins pitching.
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.