PHOENIX -- With his back continuing to respond well to strength exercises, mobility tests and batting cage work, David Freese will head to Triple-A Memphis to begin a Minor League rehab assignment. Initially slated to get on-field work in extended Spring Training games this weekend, Freese will be able to play in games sooner by instead reporting to Memphis, which opens its season on Thursday.
Manager Mike Matheny said that Freese is tentatively scheduled to play five innings in Thursday's Triple-A opener. If he plays on Friday, it will likely be just as a designated hitter. The organization's plan is to then have Freese play a full game at least once over the weekend before determining if the third baseman is ready to come off the disabled list in advance of Monday's home opener.
"He seemed to just keep feeling better, and that's an opportunity for us to see if he can push it," Matheny said. "Looking at just doing a couple games down in extended [Spring Training] where it wouldn't even be pushing him toward full games, he just wouldn't be ready in time. He's excited about how he feels."
Freese started the season on the disabled list after being slowed late in camp with lower-back inflammation. The back issue dates back to March 4, when Freese fell into the stands trying to catch a ball in foul territory. He took only 16 at-bats after that tumble.
Since the team departed Florida on Friday, Freese has resumed strengthening exercises, running and batting practice.
Beltran's day off allows Adams to make start at first
PHOENIX -- Manager Mike Matheny has talked repeatedly about his intent to be proactive in giving Carlos Beltran more days off this season, a decision prompted by a desire to ensure sustained health for the right fielder.
Separately, Matheny has noted, too, the importance of positioning Matt Adams to maintain the offensive momentum he gained during a strong spring.
On Wednesday, the Cardinals skipper showed how he can achieve both objectives with one move.
After starting the first two games of the season, Beltran was on the bench for the team's series finale in Arizona. Allen Craig shifted to right field, opening a spot for Adams to slide into the lineup as the team's first baseman. This time, Matheny said, the lineup change had more to do with wanting to get Adams in than it did needing to take Beltran, who is playing with a fractured toe.
"We knew we had to get him in there," Matheny said. "You can't really put a guy on this team, who has that kind of potential and just let him sit and lose everything that he's worked so hard for in the spring."
Adams earned a spot on the Cardinals' Opening Day roster by hitting .288 with five doubles, three homers and 17 RBIs in 26 spring games. The Cardinals saw more value in keeping Adams in the Majors -- even in a spot where he won't get everyday playing time -- than sending him back in Triple-A, where he would be the starting first baseman.
This bench role is a new one to Adams, who, because of injuries to Lance Berkman and Craig, played regularly during his month-long stint with the Cardinals last season. In fact, he took only three pinch-hit at-bats. He was not called upon to pinch-hit in the first two games of this series either, giving Adams an early understanding of how challenging the part-time role can be.
His last at-bat came on Friday in the team's final Grapefruit League game.
"My thing [has been] to watch how the pitchers are going, pay attention to their bullpen to see if there is a righty or lefty getting up," Adams said. "[I'm] making sure I'm stretched and taking my swings in the cage for whenever they need me."
• A day after going 2-for-4 with a towering home run on Tuesday, Pete Kozma inched ahead of Daniel Descalso in the batting order for Wednesday's series finale. That put Kozma in the seventh spot and dropped Descalso to eighth in the order.
• The pitching matchups for the Cardinals' upcoming series in San Francisco have been set. Jake Westbrook will face Barry Zito in Friday's opener. It will then be Shelby Miller against Ryan Vogelsong on Saturday and Adam Wainwright opposing Matt Cain on Sunday.
• Closer Jason Motte (right elbow strain) continues to abstain from throwing and will do so at least until the team gets back to St. Louis next week. Motte is scheduled to be re-evaluated by team doctors once the Cardinals return home.
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.