STL@NYM: Freese takes Hefner deep with a solo homer

JUPITER, Fla. -- David Freese will be sidelined for at least another few days after receiving a shot Monday to address inflammation in his lower back, but he remains hopeful that he will be ready to take the field April 1 on Opening Day.

The inflammation, which is a byproduct of a tumble Freese took into the stands on March 4, was identified in an MRI the third baseman underwent Monday morning. Both Freese and general manager John Mozeliak agreed the results of the MRI were "encouraging," showing no issue with any of the discs in Freese's back.

Freese was scratched from the Cardinals' lineup just before first pitch Sunday after running and swinging aggravated his back during morning workouts. That left the organization with growing concern that Freese would not be ready to play by the time the team took the field for its season opener against the D-backs.

The outlook seemed a little brighter a day later.

"I didn't really know what to expect, but I feel extremely better today than yesterday," Freese said. "Before that, I was feeling great, the best I've felt. As far as [Opening Day on] Monday, it's a possibility. In 48 hours, we'll know more."

Mozeliak, too, said that Freese has "not been ruled out" for the season opener.

Freese has started and stopped his work several times now over the past three weeks and as a result, has had only 16 at-bats since first bruising his tailbone. With only four Grapefruit League games remaining on the team's schedule, Freese may not have an opportunity to play in another.

The Cardinals may not even want him to appear in one. By keeping Freese out of Major League Spring Training games, the club could backdate a potential disabled list assignment for the third baseman to March 23. That would shrink the minimum required stay from 15 days to six, and Freese could play in Minor League games without affecting it.

Freese has had 30 at-bats since the start of spring games -- enough at-bats, he said, to be ready for the regular season, if healthy.

"I think it's kind of a fickle thing," said Freese, who has eight hits this spring. "You could take 80 at-bats in Spring Training and come out 0-for-20, and you could take 20 at-bats and hit .500 the first road trip. I felt I was seeing the ball all right. You just have to get back to being focused. If it comes to that and I just get BP in for a couple days before Monday, I'm OK with that."

Beltran plans to play through toe pain Tuesday

ESP@PUR: Beltran's double opens up the scoring

JUPITER, Fla. -- Despite persistent pain from a fractured right small toe, Carlos Beltran said he plans to play through the discomfort and take the field for Tuesday's game against the Mets. Doing so without any further setback would certainly boost Beltran's chances of being able to start the season off the disabled list.

The Cardinals' season opener against the D-backs now sits one week away.

"I'm going to do whatever it takes to get back into playing full games," Beltran said. "I want to be ready for Opening Day. There's no doubt I'm going to be there. If I'm there and feel healthy, everything is going to be good."

Beltran has not played in a Grapefruit League game since a pitch hit him on the toe on Feb. 28. Days later, he left to participate in the World Baseball Classic, where he appeared in nine games for Puerto Rico. Beltran hit .188 (6-for-32) en route to the Classic title game against the Dominican Republic, serving as designated hitter in all but one game due to his toe injury.

Since returning to Spring Training on Friday, Beltran has done limited work. He played five innings in Minor League game Sunday and spent Monday morning taking swings in the batting cage.

"It's something that's not going to go away," Beltran said. "It's going to be there. I just need to find a way to try to do something that makes it better. It still hurts and it still bothers me. I talked to the doctor already, and he said it's not going to get worse. I need to get the treatment and try to get the swelling out and play through it as much as I can. I just want to make sure that when I'm in, that I stay in."

Because Beltran took 32 at-bats in the World Baseball Classic, the Cardinals are more concerned about his mobility and readiness on defense. Beltran agrees, noting that though he played through pain during the Classic, he was able to get enough at-bats to make this recent inactivity less of a concern.

"It forced me to do something every day," Beltran said. "Maybe if I would have stayed here, it would have been a little bit different. There, I have no options. It's kind of like I need to get in the lineup because that's the only option. In that [regard], it was good."

If Beltran appears in Tuesday's Grapefruit League game, it will eliminate the Cardinals' ability to potentially backdate a disabled list stint the maximum 10 days. To do so, a player cannot play in a Major League spring game after March 21.

Cards gain Draft pick as Lohse signs with Crew

JUPITER, Fla. -- A 16-game winner and rotation ERA leader in 2012, Kyle Lohse has left the Cardinals for a National League Central foe.

Lohse, whose free agency lasted late into Spring Training, agreed to a three-year, $33 million deal with the Brewers on Monday, pending a physcial. The right-hander turned down a $13.3 million qualifying offer from the Cardinals in November.

The NL Central race, which many expected to be a battle between St. Louis and Cincinnati, becomes much more interesting now that Lohse, who finished seventh in NL Cy Young voting last year, lands in Milwaukee. He'll join Yovani Gallardo atop that Brewers rotation.

The Cardinals do benefit, though, as Lohse's signing gives St. Louis a compensation pick that it positioned itself for by making Lohse the qualifying offer. That pick will be No. 28 overall in the First-Year Player Draft and will add at least $1.65 million to the Cardinals' pool of Draft money.

Because the Brewers lose their first-round pick (No. 17) by signing Lohse, the Cardinals' other first-round selection moves up one place to No. 19. That was the same selection the Cardinals used to select Michael Wacha in 2012.

Worth noting

• After a week-long stay in Jupiter, right-hander Chris Carpenter left Cardinals camp Monday to continue his family vacation. The Carpenters' next stop is New Hampshire for the Easter holiday. Carpenter, who is out for the season, did not get in uniform during his visit, but he was visible around the clubhouse and in the stands for some of the team's Grapefruit League games.

• The Cardinals announced plans to continue their Cardinals RED (Rally Everyone Day) for Kids program, which is a "dress down" day that raises money for Cardinals Care, the team's charitable arm. Organizations, businesses or schools that want to participate can get find a registration form on cardinals.com/red. The group that raises the most money by April 30 will receive 100 complimentary Cardinals tickets.