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Notes: Encarnacion return imminent

Notes: Encarnacion return imminent

CHICAGO -- Maybe it's not quite the cavalry, but some hope for the Cardinals' slumbering offense may be on the way. Outfielder Juan Encarnacion will begin a rehabilitation assignment at Double-A Springfield on Monday.

Encarnacion, who is recovering from offseason wrist surgery, has played three extended Spring Training games in Jupiter, Fla., hitting a pair of home runs.

"He's finished with his Florida time," head athletic trainer Barry Weinberg said on Sunday. "He's comfortable swinging. His body should be in good shape.

"Right now, it's actually not a medical decision. It's more of a baseball decision. He's no longer really under medical care. He does exercises and things, but it's more a decision by the baseball people now."

Encarnacion struggled mightily in the final two months of 2006, as he battled pain in his left wrist. Before that, however, he slugged over .500 in May, June and July.

For a team in dire need of offensive help, that sort of a power jolt would be more than welcome. The Cardinals' right fielders rank last in the NL with a .177 average, .239 on-base percentage, and .274 slugging percentage and are tied in the bottom of the league standings with three RBIs.

Carp on the way: Another injured Cardinal making encouraging progress is Chris Carpenter. The staff ace is expected to begin a throwing program on Tuesday at Busch Stadium.

"He's been working every day, and so far, no setbacks," manager Tony La Russa said. "I think they're going to start amping things up little by little."

Leaning left: The Cardinals started left-handers or switch-hitters at five positions on Sunday against Wade Miller, who has been hit hard by lefties this year and last. Skip Schumaker was the only left-handed bat not in the starting nine.

Most notable was David Eckstein's first off-day of the season, with Aaron Miles starting at shortstop. Scott Spiezio got the call in right field, with Chris Duncan in left and Jim Edmonds in center. Albert Pujols is now the only Cardinal who has started every game.

"When [Miller] is right, he's tough on everybody," La Russa said. "For one thing, it's a good day to give David a rest, and the guy to replace him is Aaron Miles. I wanted to give Spiezio a game, and early on, left-handers have gotten a few extra hits against him, but I don't think it means a whole lot. I think he can get left-handers out."

Bits and pieces: Three different Cards starters -- Kip Wells, Braden Looper and Randy Keisler -- threw bullpen sessions on Sunday. ... Eckstein hit at least four home runs in batting practice. ... The Cardinals bullpen entered Sunday's game having allowed five earned runs over the past 11 games, earning a 1.32 ERA over that span.

This date in Cardinals history: On April 22, 2004, the Cardinals edged the Astros, 2-1, in 12 innings at Minute Maid Park. Hector Luna put down a squeeze bunt with one out in the top of the 12th, scoring Reggie Sanders to break a 1-1 tie. Sanders led off the inning with an infield single, then stole second and took third on Houston catcher Brad Ausmus' throwing error.

Baby 'Birds: Triple-A Memphis got homers from Rico Washington and the gradually-heating-up Tagg Bozied in a 4-2 win over Omaha on Saturday. After a 5-for-37 start, Bozied is 7-for-23 with two homers, a double and a triple in his last six games. Mike Parisi struggled, walking six in his third Triple-A start, and lasted only 4 1/3 innings. Ryan Ludwick remained hot with two more hits and two runs scored. ... Cory Rauschenberger had yet another rough start, allowing five runs in four innings, as Double-A Springfield lost to Tulsa, 7-4. Joe Mather kept up his torrid pace with two more hits to raise his average to .370. ... Tyler Norrick pitched six excellent innings but received no decision, as Class A Palm Beach beat Brevard County, 3-2, in 12 innings. Ian Church scored the winning run when A.J. Van Slyke reached on an error in the 12th. ... Brandon Buckman went 3-for-5 and Omar Falcon homered for the second straight day in Class A Quad Cities' 7-4 loss to Fort Wayne.

Player of the day laurels go to Norrick, who finally allowed an earned run but continues to have an exceptional season. Norrick gave up a single run on two hits and two walks, striking out four, as his ERA climbed to a still miniscule 0.38. The left-hander out of Southern Illinois-Carbondale was the Cards' sixth-round pick in 2006.

Coming up: Following an off-day on Monday, the Cardinals face the only NL Central opponent they have yet to play this year. Tuesday begins a three-game series with the Cincinnati Reds. Kip Wells goes against Aaron Harang, with first pitch at Busch Stadium set for 7:10 p.m. CT.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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