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Berkman running drill

Yadier Molina watches as Cardinals first baseman Lance Berkman participates in a running drill at spring training. (Chris Lee photo / clee@post-dispatch.com)

First baseman Lance Berkman avoided the disabled list Thursday but will likely miss the next three games due to a Grade 1 calf strain, the club said Thursday.

Berkman suffered the strain legging out a triple during Tuesday night's win over the Cincinnati Reds. He did not appear in Wednesday's 4-3 loss and underwent a magnetic resonance imaging Thursday morning.

The exam found a strain of the left calf but did not assess it as severe enough to require a two-week shutdown. A Grade 1 strain is considered least severe, a Grade 3 the most severe.

"There's not a huge tear in the muscle. They said they're looking at Tuesday, which I think is more than realistic," Berkman said.

"Having an off day today and an off Monday offers us a little bit of protection," general manager John Mozeliak said.

Mozeliak wouldn't rule out Berkman's availability for this weekend's series against the Chicago Cubs, but the vibe remains that such a scenario is extremely unlikely. The MRI offered a clearer framework for Berkman's return.

Berkman experienced a similar injury in 2009 while with the Houston Astros. That strain eventually worsened as he attempted to play through it and required a trip to the disabled list.

"Is this something I can push through or is this something that keeps me down?" Berkman said. "They said you could push through it with some discretion. When I had this in '09, it was at this stage and I tried to push through it. And that made it a lot worse, and I had to go on the DL. If I had taken care of it in the beginning I probably wouldn't have had a problem with it."

Manager Mike Matheny will likely use Matt Carpenter and Daniel Descalso at the position this weekend. Carpenter appeared there during Wednesday's 4-3 loss and served as cleanup hitter. Descalso manned first base after Berkman's removal from Tuesday's game.

In other injury news: pitcher Chris Carpenter will likely perform a series of strength tests this weekend to determine whether he is ready to graduate to a throwing program.

Carpenter has been sidelined for more than three weeks due to shoulder weakness resulting from a nerve condition. Carpenter must regain a certain percentage of strength in the shoulder, particularly the rotator cuff, before returning to the mound.

When asked Thursday if Carpenter could become a candidate for the 60-day disabled list should the need for a roster spot arise, Mozeliak refused to discount the possibility. "But we're not there yet, and that need hasn't arisen."

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