FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) - David Freese played third base, ran the bases and had a big day at the plate. Not bad for his first game since a pair of ankle surgeries.
Freese had two hits and three RBIs in St. Louis' 10-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Monday, an encouraging sign during a rough spring for the Cardinals.
``It felt good to get out there,' Freese said. ``To be honest, I could have gone 0 for 3 or 0 for 4, and I would have felt the same way. I feel good right now. I just have to keep progressing. The basepaths is what the key is. I just have to keep pushing myself, running around the bases.'
Freese's ankle problems started with a 2009 car crash. During last season's second ankle-related minor league rehab stint, he turned his right ankle badly enough to require reconstructive surgery in August. A month later, he had surgery to remove a bone spur from his left ankle.
Freese hit .294 with four homers and 36 RBIs in 70 games last season. St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said it was good to write his name back in the lineup again, and he also plans to do it on opening day.
``He had good execution,' La Russa said. ``It was his first time out there in a long time. If he's healthy, then he's our third baseman. He will be.'
Health has been a problem this spring for St. Louis, which already lost starter Adam Wainwright for the year to right elbow surgery and will be without utilityman Nick Punto (sports hernia) at the start of the season. Ace Chris Carpenter tweaked his left hamstring during a spring start last Tuesday and felt it again during a throwing session on Sunday, forcing the Cardinals to scratch him from his scheduled start.
La Russa is preaching patience when it comes to Carpenter, who went 16-9 with a 3.22 ERA last season.
``As long as he's able to do all his exercises, we're OK,' La Russa said. ``We've just got to get him 100 percent-plus, in my opinion. I'd send him out there opening day if his arm was sound and his leg was sound with zero innings. He's got a wealth of experience and competitive fire in his gut. But the whole key is get him healthy and we'll go from there, whenever that is.'
Twins closer Joe Nathan had reconstructive right elbow surgery last March but is off to a nice start this spring. He worked the fifth against St. Louis for his third consecutive hitless inning.
``Obviously there are going to be outings that don't go according to plan, and that's when you have to grind and figure out other ways to get guys out,' he said. ``But so far command has been pretty good.
``The command has really been a pleasant surprise to this point, and I can't ask for much more than what's going on out there right now as far as life on the ball, movement on the ball, sharpness of stuff.'
Scott Baker struck out three in three innings for Minnesota, yielding one run and two hits. Baker and Kevin Slowey are battling for the fifth spot in the Twins rotation.
``I think the misfires are coming less often,' said Baker, who had offseason surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow. ``My arm was feeling like I was on top of the ball for the most part and I feel like it was coming out of my hand pretty good. So I'm pleased with it.'
Jake Westbrook allowed one run and four hits in 3 2-3 innings for the Cardinals. The 33-year-old right-hander made 33 starts last season for Cleveland and St. Louis after being sidelined for much of the previous two years due to reconstructive elbow surgery.
``Last year I was coming off not having pitched a big league ballgame, as it were, in 18 months,' Westbrook said. ``Now I'm going out there and concentrating on getting ready for the year and not worrying about my arm.
``I'm out there concentrating on putting the ball where I want to. After what I've gone through in '08 and '09 to not have to worry about your arm, that's a huge weight off your mind. You can concentrate on other aspects of being a good pitcher.'
NOTES: Twins C Joe Mauer, recovering from offseason left knee surgery, participated in fielding drills but has yet to catch a bullpen session. There is no timetable for his return or 1B Justin Morneau (post-concussion problems). ... Twins RF Michael Cuddyer is almost healed after having a wart removed from his left foot last week. ... Twins LF Delmon Young might play in a B-squad game scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday against the Pirates after struggling through a turf toe injury. ... Twins C Danny Lehmann was taken for a precautionary CT scan after getting hit in the head by a bat during a backswing. ... Minnesota reliever Anthony Slama had an MRI on his right elbow.
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