If Cardinals third baseman David Freese was looking for some reassurance that his tender right ankle could handle a game-speed test, he got it early and often Sunday on the bases.
Back in the lineup after missing five games with the injury, Freese walked in his first two plate appearances and raced home after both of them. He scored from first base in the second inning and advanced from second on consecutive wild pitches to score in the third inning of the Cardinals' 10-4 victory against Washington.
Freese finished hitless in two at-bats but played the entire game less than a week from rolling the right ankle in Houston last Monday.
"I felt better in the middle of the game than I did at the beginning," Freese said. "As I got going I felt a lot better. I was pleased. Running around. Score a couple runs. Take the walks."
And dodge one flying object.
In the fifth inning, Ryan Zimmerman skipped a grounder to Freese that was suited for a double play. The barrel of Zimmerman's bat followed the grounder and while Freese bent down to get the ball, the bat spun just over him. He said if he had shuffled his feet instead of taken a quick step toward second base the bat might have clipped him. He didn't know how close it was until hearing and seeing it later.
Freese said he's probably ducked the ankle being a persistent problem as well. He has recovered well in recent days after sprinting and suggested he'll be available to play as needed for the final three regular-season games and whatever comes after for the Cardinals.
"I'll be fine," Freese said. "I'm ready for it."
FURCAL NEARS DECISION
Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal will meet with a team doctor in the middle of this week to determine if he can begin testing his injured elbow with a throwing program or taking swings. Furcal has a strained ligament in his right elbow and is trying to avoid reconstructive surgery on the joint, which would eat into his available time for next season. Furcal said Sunday he still had pain inside the elbow and that he's uncertain even an extended run in October would allow him to contribute this season.
"Maybe I've got a chance. I wish I could try something and feel good," Furcal said. "They say (in the) offseason don't try to do too much. Leave it alone. ... I need time to do the healing."
BUNT BOOT CAMP
As much as manager Mike Matheny has been questioned about when he's utilized the bunt this season, he's wondered just as often about his team's difficulty executing it. Matheny said he's modified the team's bunt practices throughout the season and that how bunting is taught and drilled during spring training will change for 2013. Including a failed bunt in the fifth inning Saturday, the Cardinals' offense has halted because of several players' lack of success with the bunt, and Matheny conceded Sunday that he has become pickier with who bunts because of the lack of proficiency he's seen.
"I think we can be better. I think they think we can be better," Matheny said. "I believe there are a few things that you can work on in this game to the point where the more you work the better you'll be. ... One, is blocking balls. The more you block, the better you're going to be. The other is bunting. The more you bunt the better you're going to be. That's something you can control."
Reliever Kyle McClellan (elbow) has had his rehab pushed up a couple of weeks so that the current schedule will have him throwing in the first week of November. McClellan has missed all but the first month of the season with elbow and shoulder discomfort. The return to the field in November will allow him prove his health before negotiating a 2013 contract with the Cardinals — or another team — this winter. ... Leadoff batter Jon Jay has at least one hit in 16 consecutive home games and he has reached base in 29 consecutive games at Busch. Among active players, that trails only Colorado outfielder Carlos Gonzalez's 44 games.