April 17, 2012; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Lance Berkman (12) makes a play against the Cincinnati Reds during the game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, MO. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE

Lance Berkman Returns From Injury In Cardinals Loss Sunday

The St. Louis Cardinals are being cautious with Lance Berkman's injured calf, which put him on the disabled list back on April 19.

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Lance Berkman Injury: St. Louis Cardinals Slugger Returns In Loss Sunday

The St. Louis Cardinals finally got Lance Berkman back Sunday afternoon, after a seemingly minor mid-April calf injury led him to miss nearly a month. Berkman was 1-5 in the Cardinals' series-ending loss to the Atlanta Braves, spending the entire afternoon at first base and striking out three times.

The Cardinals weren't exactly suffering at first base in his absence; Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter did an outstanding Lance Berkman impression in his stead. But with him back the Cardinals will be able to redeploy Carpenter as the primary backup at third base and Craig as Berkman's near-platoon-partner and the primary caddy for Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday.

The Cardinals keep losing, but the depth gets deeper. Now, while Beltran and Berkman are both healthy, the Cardinals are left to wonder again just how to get enough at-bats for Craig, who's currently hitting .359/.413/.821.

More Cardinals coverage from SB Nation St. Louis:

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Lance Berkman Injury: St. Louis Cardinals Could Activate Slugger Sunday

Predicting the end of Lance Berkman injury watch has become an almost-impossible game to play—even Lance Berkman is terrible at it, having most recently assumed that his calf problem would be a thing of the past back on Friday. As it turned out, it wasn't, and Berkman, who's played only seven games all season, was held back again due to a calf injury that's gone from a nagging concern to a month-long absence ever since Berk ran out the costliest triple of the season.

Jenifer Langosch reported Saturday that the Cardinals could see Berkman's return as soon as Sunday, for their series finale against the Atlanta Braves. It's hard to be optimistic about that date's accuracy, at this point, but the same depth that's going to allow them to ease him back into the lineup in the first place—I wouldn't expect him to see much time against left-handed pitchers for a while, with Allen Craig on the roster—has made their time without Berkman run relatively smooth, so it's unlikely the Cardinals will rush him before he's ready. After all, their OPS at first base is already over .950.

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Lance Berkman Injury: St. Louis Cardinals 1B Could Return Friday Vs. Braves

Lance Berkman's injury has been far stubborner than expected—he tweaked his calf legging out a triple a month ago, back on April 10—but the St. Louis Cardinals could have their starting first baseman back Friday, when they return to St. Louis to play the Atlanta Braves in a weekend set.

Berkman played two games a week after the injury, going 2-7, but the trainers didn't like the way he was running and he's been kept on a tight leash since then to avoid reaggravating it. It hasn't been too much of an inconvenience: Matt Carpenter starred early, while Allen Craig is 9-27 with three doubles and three home runs since returning from the disabled list himself.

With Berkman back the Cardinals will—for a while, at least—be in the enviable position of having Too Many Hitters. That was the plan for this team all along: They can afford to rely on Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran, because Allen Craig will always be standing behind one of them. Matt Carpenter's just been an unexpected bonus.

More St. Louis Cardinals updates from SB Nation St. Louis:

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Lance Berkman Injury: Former Killer B Won't Return For Start Of Cardinals Vs. Astros Series

Lance Berkman is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list on Friday, but Cardinals.com's Jenifer Langosch is reporting that the first baseman, who's been dealing with a lingering calf injury since legging out a triple early in the season, won't return immediately.

The Cardinals could hardly have asked for a better time than this to deal with Berkman's injury. Matt Carpenter, the rookie third baseman pressed into service at the start of his DL stint, is hitting .279/.338/.485 in 68 at-bats, mostly at first, and now Allen Craig, the Cardinals' primary reserve for all their veteran sluggers, has made his own return; he's 4-9 with two doubles in two games since coming off the disabled list.

Berkman, hitting 8-23 with two doubles and the fateful triple in just five games this season, will have to contribute at some point, and he should be ready to try soon. But for now, the Cardinals have hardly felt his absence at all.

More St. Louis Cardinals news and analysis from SB Nation St. Louis:

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Lance Berkman Injury: St. Louis Cardinals' First Baseman Not Running Yet

Lance Berkman's calf injury, which began as a lingering issue, lingers still: Berkman and the St. Louis Cardinals were hoping he'd be able to test his injured left leg over the weekend, but Joe Strauss reported Monday that the team trainers didn't think he was ready.

Berkman, who played 145 games last season, has missed 15 already this season; he's hitting .348/.500/.522 in seven games. Matt Carpenter has gamely covered his absence, hitting .267/.333/.467 and earning most of the starts so far at first base, but with Allen Craig due back this week it looks like the Cardinals will have no need to rush their limping slugger back.

Berkman hit .301/.412/.547 in 2011, his first season with the Cardinals, as their surprise starter in right field. The 164 OPS+ was a career high at age-35 for the former Houston Astros star. More Cardinals coverage from SB Nation St. Louis:

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