Return to full strength nearly a reality for Cards

Already activated, Adams hits pinch-hit homer; Holliday could be back this week

Return to full strength nearly a reality for Cards

ST. LOUIS -- The swing meant little to the outcome Sunday, with the Cardinals already ahead by five when Matt Adams feasted on a fat 90-mph fastball and sent it 423 feet to punctuate a five-run eighth en route to a 9-2 rout of the Reds.

What it offered the psyche, however, may have been the biggest boost of all.

"I told him," manager Mike Matheny said afterward, "'Don't think for a moment I won't be dreaming about that.'"

Dreaming about how formidable their lineup could once again be is all the Cardinals could do for the past few months, as several key players methodically progressed through their respective rehab programs. Now, they're poised to see it.

Adams, who was initially expected to miss the rest of the season after tearing his right quadriceps muscle, returned from the 15-day disabled list last week with clearance to pinch-hit. He took three such at-bats off the bench in Cincinnati and described himself as "very, very close" to returning to the field. Adams' name could be on the lineup card as early as Tuesday's series opener in Milwaukee.

Adams' two-run homer

"We have been pushing him out there, letting him take ground balls, moving him left and right," Matheny said. "And apparently his swing doesn't feel too bad."

"It's going to be fun," a grinning Adams said of the prospect of playing without restriction for the first time since May 26.

Matt Holliday, recovering from a quad injury of his own, shouldn't be too far behind Adams. The veteran outfielder is a candidate to come off the DL in Milwaukee, though he has only been running at about a 70-80 percent clip thus far. A harder mobility test is on the docket for Tuesday.

Though Holliday has been taking batting practice without issue for weeks, the Cards intend to wait until he's without limitation before sending him back onto the field.

"We're always excited to see these guys back," Matheny said. "They're so close. Stay the course. Whatever the medical team is saying, stick with it. But just know we're excited to have you back when we get that green light."

Adams on pinch-hit home run

Matheny has been careful not to use the Cardinals' at times lengthy injury report as an excuse for their underwhelming offensive season. Since Adams went down in late May, the Cards have ranked 13th in average (.247) and 14th in slugging percentage (.384) among all National League teams.

Holliday has been missing for most of that time, too, as he suffered his initial quad injury on June 8 and has played in only 11 games since. Nevertheless, St. Louis has gone 48-32 without him.

"That's one of the things we're constantly talking about -- it's good to have all of those guys coming, but at the same time, you can't sit around and wait for them," Matt Carpenter said. "This thing isn't going to change collectively until individually we are executing better and doing those things. You can't just hope that Matt Holliday is going to save us or Matt Adams is going to save us or whoever is coming off the DL."

Still, with their early-season cleanup hitter and permanent three-hole hitter on the verge of coming back, the Cardinals will enter the season's final stretch as close to full strength as they've been since April. The last recovering position player, Randal Grichuk, is making daily progress, too, and he expects to be a full-go outfield option before the end of the month.

The timing couldn't be better.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.