HOUSTON -- Somewhat unexpectedly, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny had no injuries or illness inhibiting him from writing Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday into the lineup for Monday's series opener against the Astros.
When the Cardinals left Chicago on Sunday, they did so with concern about the status of three of the team's biggest bats. Beltran was fighting a stomach illness, while Molina and Holliday were bothered by back tightness. None of the three played a full game on Sunday. In Molina's case, he wasn't cleared to even make an appearance.
But Beltran said he woke up Monday feeling much better. And Molina and Holliday were then cleared to play after passing a series of tests administered by the team's medical staff.
Molina's back tightness was brought on by an awkward jump out of the way of a Carlos Marmol pitch on Saturday. He came out of that game immediately.
"Anytime you know Yadi came out of a game, you hold your breath," Matheny said. "Then you realize the next day he can't go and play, it's usually something that has your attention for sure. It's amazing how quick he rebounds. The put him through the ringer [of tests] today and he came out with flying colors."
Holliday said his back bothered him throughout the team's last series. He started all three games in Chicago but was pulled late in the last two. He has been bothered by back tightness at various times this season.
Beltran was limited to a pinch-hit appearance on Sunday after coming down with an illness the night before.
Freese unsure how long he'll sit after rolling ankle
HOUSTON -- A mild ankle sprain, the result of a freak incident in the indoor batting cage, forced David Freese out of the Cardinals' 6-1 win on Monday and will likely keep him off the field for longer. The unknown is just how long that might be.
Freese was preparing for another start at third base by running around the batting cage at Minute Maid Park in the minutes just before first pitch. That's part of his regular warmup routine. As he ran, however, Freese's right foot caught in what he and manager Mike Matheny both described as "soft spots" in the floor of the cage. Freese's ankle rolled. He fell to a knee.
With Freese's mobility too compromised, Matheny subbed Matt Carpenter in as his third baseman after the top of the first. Word of the injury came too late for Matheny to take Freese out of the starting lineup before he had to hand it in.
Freese described the pain as "bad enough to get it checked out," which he did during Monday's game. X-rays came back negative, and the Cardinals are encouraged that it is not a high ankle sprain.
"A couple days, a few days, I don't know," Freese said when asked to project a timetable. "We'll see how it feels tomorrow. But I rolled it pretty good."
The third baseman has a history of ankle problems, having undergone surgery on both ankles earlier in his career. Freese has, however, managed to stay mostly healthy this year. He missed one game due to a left ankle sprain earlier this month.
"His ankle and his feet he's had so much trouble with," Matheny said. "I know everybody is concerned. But they went and had the doctors look at it, did all the tests they needed to find everything was negative, except the sprain. But sprains can be a lingering thing, too. Hopefully we get ahead of it."
Kozma taking advantage of opportunity at short
HOUSTON -- The Cardinals weren't going to find an equal replacement for Rafael Furcal, who went down with a season-ending arm injury on Aug. 30. But manager Mike Matheny's hope was that he could do a good enough job mixing and matching his other three shortstop options to at least minimize the loss.
Daniel Descalso was already on the Major League club. Pete Kozma arrived the day after Furcal went down. Ryan Jackson came up from Triple-A shortly after. But this has become no carousel of three. Most of the starts have gone and will continue to go to Kozma, the former first-round Draft pick seizing the opportunity after being given the chance.
"I kind of figured I would be splitting time with somebody who had been up here all year," Kozma said. "I feel pretty good getting in there. I've worked out the jitters."
Kozma made his 12th start in the team's last 14 games on Monday. The stranglehold on the spot initially came as a result of what Kozma was doing on the defensive end. He was touted as an above-average defender while climbing through the Minors, and the Cardinals wanted defensive stability at the position.
Kozma's production on offense, though, has been a bonus.
Kozma crushed a homer in the second inning Monday, giving him two home runs in as many days. A .232 hitter in Triple-A this season, Kozma has hit safely in eight of his 14 starts. He has three triples and was credited with stealing home on a botched suicide squeeze attempt over the weekend.
"He's taken good at-bats for us," Matheny said. "He's taken tough at-bats and they're pitching him tough. That eight-hole is not an easy place to be. He's done a nice job with the opportunity that he's had.
"We have three guys to kind of play with. We're just trying to figure out who was going to take advantage of it. That's been Pete."
Lance Berkman has rejoined the club for this series in Houston, which is also his permanent home. Berkman, who underwent his second right knee surgery of the season earlier in September, is continuing through his rehab program. He has not been cleared to resume any baseball activities.
While Berkman said he won't rule out a return, it remains highly unlikely that Berkman plays again this year.
Two days after Jake Westbrook (right oblique strain) said he fears his season is over, general manager John Mozeliak, too, said that it looks unlikely that Westbrook will be back. The Cardinals plan to give Westbrook a few more days off before seeing how his side responds. It's too early to know whether Westbrook would be able to work his way back in time to pitch in the postseason, if St. Louis gets there.
The Cardinals are offering a select number of $3.20 tickets for the club's final regular-season series of 2012. The ticket price was selected as a way to thank fans for pushing the team's year-long attendance over 3.2 million. The tickets, which are available for the Oct. 1-3 games against Cincinnati, go on sale Tuesday at 10 a.m. CT. They are available for purchase at www.cardinals.com/thanks.
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.