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JUPITER, Fla. -- Not much has transpired this morning as the Cardinals wait for the rain to stop, but injured infielder Nick Punto reached a plateau of sorts. When the hitting groups were announced for the batting practice against the coaches to take place in the covered cages, Punto's name was announced by hitting coach Mark McGwire.

"Welcome to the club," said McGwire as teammates applauded the mention of Punto's name.

Punto hasn't hit, except off a tee, since late February when he underwent surgery for a sports hernia.

The final baseball hurdle Punto said he would have to clear would be running, both side to side and around the bases.

Origially, Punto, signed as a free agent for infield depth this off-season, was targeted to be out two to three months after the surgery. He said this morning he was hopeful of being able to play by May 1.

When the team leaves here Tuesday to go north, Punto will be with the club but then likely will return here when he is closer to playing in games.


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