JUPITER, Fla. -- Joel Pineiro played catch again on Saturday, but even as the right-hander inched forward in his return from injury, the Cardinals conceded that he is unlikely to start the season in their rotation.
Pineiro has not pitched since March 7, a result of inflammation in the lat muscle below his right shoulder. He began playing catch on Friday, and he threw from a longer distance on Saturday. However, Pineiro is not scheduled to throw off a mound until Wednesday, after the team's Tuesday off-day.
"I'll throw again today and throw again tomorrow, then see how it goes," Pineiro said on Saturday morning. "After the day off, then I should be OK to throw a bullpen [session]."
Pineiro reported no discomfort in the area, and he said the club's training staff is pleased with his progress. However, his injury is a tricky one. He was shut down once early this spring, got back to feeling fine, and then felt more discomfort after pitching in the March 7 game.
Following that experience, the Cardinals are progressing very cautiously with Pineiro. The earliest possible day that he could appear in another Grapefruit League game is March 23, and from there, he would have to build his stamina up to regular-season levels.
Given those circumstances, pitching coach Dave Duncan acknowledged on Saturday afternoon that it is not realistic to write Pineiro in for a start in the season's first week.
"No, I don't think so," Duncan said. "I think you'd be jeopardizing him if you put him in that situation. I think the thing we've got to do right now is make sure he gets healthy, and if it takes a little time, then it takes a little time. We don't want to send him out there when he's not fully ready to compete."
Pineiro is hoping that he only has to skip one turn and then take his spot shortly after the season begins.
"I'm guessing maybe one start," Pineiro said. "You've got a day off right after the first game, so it's not like they'll need that fifth starter. So maybe I could be counted as that fifth starter when they go back around."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.