CINCINNATI -- Less than two months after wondering if a knee injury could potentially end his career, Lance Berkman is prepared to come off the disabled list before the Cardinals' game in Cincinnati on Saturday.
The official announcement won't come until Saturday, as the club wants to make sure Berkman's surgically repaired right knee continues to respond well. Berkman took extra swings on Friday afternoon off manager Mike Matheny, who threw harder and from a closer distance than is normal during batting practice.
Berkman has been running without issue and participating in defensive work for several days. The Cardinals determined on Thursday that Berkman would travel to Cincinnati with the big league club rather than spend time out on a Minor League rehab assignment.
"We have an urgency to put the best team out there that we can, and I think it's without question what he adds to this team with the intangibles and the tangibles," Matheny said. "We thought there was a way to rush that process a little bit."
The organization also knows Berkman's numbers at Great American Ball Park and wants to capitalize on that career success. Berkman has hit .330 with a .450 on-base percentage, 23 homers and 58 RBIs in 59 games at Great American Ball Park. In comparison, Berkman has hit 16 home runs and driven in 59 in 101 games at Busch Stadium.
Because Berkman did not go out on a rehab assignment, he is expected to ease into game action when he is activated. With Allen Craig, Carlos Beltran and Matt Carpenter all healthy enough to cover first base and right field, Berkman will have that luxury.
"There's really not a whole lot you can fine tune until you get back in there and start playing against live competition," Berkman said. "For me, it's just making sure that I get my body back in shape to swing the bat and where you feel like you can compete when you go out there. I'm pretty much right at that level."
Assuming Berkman does return this weekend, he will beat his anticipated 8-10 week recovery time. Berkman underwent surgery on May 25 to repair meniscus and cartilage tears in his right knee.
Berkman's return will also put the Cardinals back at full strength in terms of position players. The club has played only two games -- May 13-14 -- without at least one position player on the DL this year.
Cards interested in signing lefty Fuentes
CINCINNATI -- General manager John Mozeliak confirmed that the Cardinals have reached out to the Beverly Hills Sports Council to express interest in signing their client, recently released lefty reliever Brian Fuentes.
Fuentes was designated for assignment and then released by the A's earlier this month after a disappointing start to his season. In 26 appearances with Oakland, Fuentes allowed 30 hits and 19 earned runs in 25 innings.
The Cardinals, however, have been searching for left-handed relief help since releasing J.C. Romero in May. Right now, rookie Barret Browning is serving as the club's second lefty, behind Marc Rzepczynski.
Fuentes is believed to be mulling various offers, leaving the Cardinals to wait for that decision. Fuentes, 36, is just three seasons removed from his fourth All-Star appearance, and is coming off a season in which he posted a 3.70 ERA in 67 games.
Signing Fuentes would not come at a substantial risk for St. Louis. Because Fuentes was released, it's the A's who are on the hook for paying the rest of the $6.5 million Fuentes is due from his 2012 contract. A team could sign him now for as little as the prorated minimum Major League salary.
The Cardinals' search for bullpen upgrades won't end with Fuentes, even if he signs.
"I would say that our interest in right-handed relief is high," Mozeliak said. "Basically, when you look at our bullpen, we're happy in the eighth and ninth. We just have to get from the starter to there. If you look at the landscape of the trading market right now, getting a reliever might be easier than getting a starter."
The organization would love to add a starting pitcher before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, but the supply is low and the demands are currently too high. Offseason changes with the Draft pick compensation rules will affect what the Cardinals are willing to give up for a short-term boost, as well.
Teams that acquire a player midseason are no longer eligible to receive a compensatory Draft pick if that player ends the season with Type A or Type B status. In the past, clubs have given up top prospects knowing that if the player it acquires ends up walking away as a free agent during the next season, the organization will at least be in line to get a Draft pick or two in return.
With no such cushion in place, the Cardinals are not willing to trade away their most valued prospects for a player who is not signed beyond this year.
Cards happy with number of picks signed
CINCINNATI -- Friday's 4 p.m. CT deadline to sign players taken in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft came and went with little noise in St. Louis, largely because the Cardinals had already solidified their class.
The Cardinals ended up signing 34 of their 44 selections, including each of the first 14 players selected by the club. Four of those players -- right-hander Michael Wacha (No. 19 overall), outfielder James Ramsey (No. 23), third baseman Stephen Piscotty (No. 36) and third baseman Carson Kelly (No. 86) -- received a bonus of at least $1.43 million.
Wacha topped the group with his $1.9 million deal.
"We feel really good about signing 34 players from our Draft class," first-year Cardinals scouting director Dan Kantrovitz said. "In particular, one of our goals was to get all of the top 10-round picks signed and to get the majority of them out on the field as quickly as possible. Looking back on it, I think we accomplished that."
General manager John Mozeliak credited the Draft changes instituted in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement for pushing Draftees to sign quickly after being selected. Not only was the signing deadline moved up by a month, but players were also aware that teams only had a select pool of money to hand out bonuses from.
"The fact that they could go out and play [this summer] benefits them in their career," Mozeliak said. "In the past, when you had the Aug. 15 signing deadline, a lot of deals were getting done at the 11th hour, and then the season was almost over. And I think a lot of the angst in the negotiations that there have been in the past is relatively calm compared to past years."
The Cardinals' Draft bonus pool for players chosen in rounds 1-10 (and those taken afterward who receive a bonus upwards of $100,000) was $9.1311 million this season. St. Louis spent more than that allotted amount, but because the overage was under a five-percent threshold, the organization incurs only a tax. The Cardinals do not lose any future Draft picks as a penalty.
Among those not to sign with the Cardinals were Tate Matheny, son of manager Mike Matheny, and Eduardo Oquendo, son of third-base coach Jose Oquendo. Tate Matheny, who was selected in the 23rd round, will honor his commitment to play at Missouri State University. Eduardo Oquendo, a 32nd-round pick, will return to Olney Central College in Illinois.
Left-hander Jaime Garcia (left shoulder impingement) did not travel with the club to Cincinnati, but his rehab throwing program continues to progress as scheduled. Said manager Mike Matheny on Friday: "All the updates we get, he's been very good and is responding to everything they're giving him. He feels strong, and I think they're happy with where he is right now."
Right-hander Kurt Heyer, the club's sixth-round selection in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, agreed to a signing bonus of $165,100 before Friday's signing deadline. Heyer is headed to the Gulf Coast League, where he will begin his professional career. The Cardinals have not ruled out moving Heyer up a level in the system before the end of the year.
Matt Adams (right elbow soreness) is resuming baseball activities with Triple-A Memphis and is still eyeing a return to game action on July 16. Adams has been out since June 30, though a recent doctor's visit confirmed that Adams should be able to play through the elbow discomfort for the rest of the season without risking additional damage.
Double-A starter Trevor Rosenthal returned to the mound for Springfield on Thursday after missing one start due to a lower back strain. Rosenthal, 22, allowed four hits in six scoreless innings. He struck out four and walked one.
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.