Berkman, Beltran, Freese return to lineup

Berkman, Beltran, Freese return to lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals opened a three-game series against the division-rival Reds on Tuesday, and they did so with their offense back at full strength.

For the first time in a week, manager Mike Matheny was able to pen a lineup without needing to work around injury limitations. Lance Berkman's absence was the longest, as the first baseman sat for four games while nursing a left calf strain. He contended that he felt well enough to play over the weekend, but soggy field conditions and a hot-hitting Matt Carpenter led the Cardinals to give their first baseman the additional time off.

Berkman's return allowed Matheny to move Carlos Beltran back into the No. 2 hole. Beltran -- who hit a solo homer in the first inning Tuesday -- left Sunday's game with right forearm tightness, but he informed the Cardinals on Tuesday that his arm is now fine. Ice and acupuncture seemed to do the trick for Beltran, who was hit in that arm by a pitch on Sunday. He exited three innings later when he had some trouble throwing at full strength.

Batting behind Berkman was David Freese, who missed the past two games against the Cubs due to irritation of his right ring finger. That irritation led to some weakness in Freese's hand. Even with the missed time, Freese still led the club with 11 RBIs entering Tuesday. Only four players in the National League had driven in more.

With all three healthy, Matheny went with the lineup he used for four of the first five games. The Cards won three of those contests. Last year, under manager Tony La Russa, St. Louis didn't employ the same batting order five times all season. La Russa used two different batting orders four times apiece.

Even without the recent aid of some of their biggest bats, the Cardinals entered Tuesday leading the league in team batting average (.299), runs scored (57), hits (105) and home runs (15).