HOUSTON -- Cardinals manager Tony La Russa hopes he has an easy time making out his lineup card Saturday. But just in case, he'll have two or three different permutations, as he prepares for the possibility that one or both of his corner outfielders may be unavailable. Left fielder Reggie Sanders felt significant improvement Friday after hitting the ground hard on a play in the outfield Thursday night. Sanders said that he expects to play in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series between St. Louis and Houston. "I feel pretty good," Sanders said. "I expected to be worse. I'm a little sore, but this is crunch time, so I'll definitely be out there."
Sanders is dealing with a litany of aches, including soreness in his lower back and his neck. Right fielder Larry Walker is feeling increasing pain from the herniated disk in his neck, a condition for which he has had four cortisone injections this year. "He's got a disk problem in his neck and it affects the way he plays," said head athletic trainer Barry Weinberg. "If he's not functional with it -- he can tolerate the pain, but if he becomes not functional, that's a matter to decide whether he's functional enough to play." In Walker's mind, there's no doubt that he'll be in the lineup. "I don't think so," said the seven-time Gold Glover. "What did you hear? "I guess we'll find out tomorrow. I don't deal with the next day. I just deal with the here and now. Tomorrow, I don't know. We'll deal with that when the time comes." However, La Russa expressed some worry about Walker, who is 1-for-16 in the postseason. "He's a concern," said the manager. "I know he's hurting. Whatever that turns out to be. But I know he's got some soreness." Ideally, both veterans will play against Hall of Fame-bound right-hander Roger Clemens. If one sits out, the likely replacement will be So Taguchi, who is 4-for-8 against Clemens. The second replacement, if needed, would be John Mabry (3-for-16 vs. Clemens) or rookie John Rodriguez. "I just hope there's no outfielders to replace," La Russa said. "And I hope it's not two. We're looking at Larry very closely, too. I think So deserves the first call, if there is one." Ankiel added: Rick Ankiel took one more step Friday toward completing an incredible comeback. The Cardinals added Ankiel to their 40-man roster after he spent the year in the Minors trying to make the conversion from pitching to the outfield. An impressive August at Double-A Springfield showed the Cardinals what they were hoping to see, and they purchased his contract Friday.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.