PIT@STL: Axford, Matheny tossed after plunking

ST. LOUIS -- Both reliever John Axford and manager Mike Matheny were ejected from the Cardinals' 12-8 victory over the Pirates on Friday night.

Home-plate umpire Tony Randazzo removed the recently acquired right-hander and the St. Louis skipper from the game in the eighth when Axford plunked Pittsburgh's Tony Sanchez with a pitch. Both teams had already been issued warnings after Bryan Morris narrowly missed Yadier Molina with a head-level pitch in the seventh, which, per Major League rules, mandated Matheny's ejection, his sixth as a manager.

"I know that they're watching close and that was what he felt, so that's the decision he made," Matheny said.

With the Cards leading 12-1 entering the eighth, and the game seemingly all but over, Axford gave up a leadoff double before hitting Sanchez, handing the ball off to Jake Westbrook, who made his first appearance off the disabled list with a runner already in scoring position.

"I had a good opportunity to build off my outing last time in which things were going well and I was throwing well, then two hitters I'm out of the game," Axford said. "Obviously not my intention. I didn't want it to go that way. I wish I could have just built off my last outing a little bit better and obviously not put Jake Westbrook in that situation either. That's also pretty upsetting to me. I'd rather take care of that myself."

Craig optimistic he'll return by end of season

Craig's injury, most indispensable player on Cards

ST. LOUIS -- Although there remains no timetable for a return, Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig is optimistic he can recover from his sprained left foot in time to play again this season.

Craig, who injured his foot rounding first on Wednesday against the Reds, was evaluated in Cincinnati before flying back to St. Louis on Thursday for X-rays and an MRI, which revealed no structural damage. He is wearing a walking boot and will be re-evaluated by foot and ankle specialist Dr. John Nadaud from Mercy Hospital and the Cardinals' medical staff early next week.

"It's going to be sore for a little bit, but all things considered, I think I'm OK," Craig said. "I think there's a good chance I'll be back at some point this season, but we're going to take it one day at a time. I've never been through this particular injury, so I'm going to work my hardest every day to get it right and do whatever the trainers say."

Craig is currently treating his foot with rest and ice to reduce swelling. He will start doing more once the swelling subsides. He said the fact that X-rays and an MRI revealed no structural damage in his foot was a "huge relief."

"Originally, I was pretty scared because my foot has never bent that way," Craig said. "I'm not too worried about playing through pain. I think everybody has done that before. I just got to get it to a point where it feels good and I don't risk further injury."

General manager John Mozeliak said the club's medical staff is more optimistic about Craig's injury than it was Wednesday and Thursday, although it's still too early to speculate when he might return.

"We're lucky in the sense that there's no fracture," Mozeliak said. "Based on what we saw [Wednesday] night, we certainly thought it was going to be worse. But he's still in a boot. I think it's going to be one of those things where each day we may learn little bit more, see how he progresses, see how he feels. I think, in the short term, he's not going to be available any time soon."

Westbrook activated, placed in Cardinals' bullpen

STL@CIN: Westbrook reaches down to field grounder

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals activated Jake Westbrook from the 15-day disabled list Friday, but the 35-year-old veteran returned to the club in a new role as he transitions into the bullpen for the near future.

Westbrook entered Friday's 12-8 win over the Pirates in the eighth and struggled in his first appearance since spending time on the DL with lower back tightness. He served up a two-run homer to Pittsburgh's Josh Harrison in the eighth, and gave up another run in the ninth with a bases-loaded walk.

"I know he wasn't as sharp as he wanted to be, but it was an opportunity to get him out see what we've got to work with and let some of the other guys have a night," manager Mike Matheny said.

Matheny said Friday afternoon the right-hander isn't dealing with any glaring issues pertaining to the lower back tightness that landed him on the DL, although Westbrook will continue to take precautionary measures because of it.

"He feels good. Hopefully [it's] just something that's behind him," Matheny said. "Any of these guys that have injuries, they're always doing something to make sure that they don't go back to where they were. You change your program a little bit to adapt it, to try to be more of a preventative maintenance than anything else."

For Westbrook, a late-season shift to the 'pen isn't unfamiliar territory. He was delegated to a relief role for the postseason in 2011, and tossed a scoreless inning in Game 6 of the World Series, earning the win on David Freese's walk-off homer.

Westbrook entered Friday 4-6 with a 4.70 ERA in 41 career relief appearances (90 innings), his last coming Aug. 7 versus the Dodgers when starter Shelby Miller exited early after taking a line drive off his elbow. Prior to that, his last regular-season relief outing was in April 2004 with the Indians.

Neither Matheny nor general manager John Mozeliak ruled out Westbrook returning to the rotation this month or in October.

"He's going to be able to get long toss [in] and do some flat ground sides as often as he can," Matheny said. "As far as being able to be stretched out, that does become a challenge, especially this time of the year when we don't have other teams playing. [But] by this time of the year, most of them have a lot of stamina built up. They'll just try and stay sharp."

Cards to use off-day to give starters extra rest

Lynn on mistakes he made in loss to Reds

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals will use Monday's off-day as an opportunity to give each starter an extra day of rest, rather than using the day to shake up the rotation or skip slumping right-hander Lance Lynn.

"Everybody is feeling September right now, and so most likely we're going to continue in that route with giving them an extra day and staying on track," manager Mike Matheny said. "We still have time to change that, but right now, that's the way it appears."

Although general manager John Mozeliak admitted the club has discussed taking Lynn out of the rotation, the righty remains on schedule for at least one more start -- Wednesday versus Milwaukee. Lynn hasn't held an opponent to fewer than four earned runs in his last five outings, raising his ERA from 3.79 to 4.37 in that span.

"My understanding is they want to give him another shot," Mozeliak said. "So at this point, listen to our baseball people and see where it goes. But the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different outcome. So at some point, something has to give."

If the Cardinals hope to keep pace with the Pirates and Reds in the National League Central and make a run deep into October, they will have to sort out their starting-pitching woes. Since the beginning of August, St. Louis starters have made it through the seventh inning just seven times, as the three remaining Opening Day starters -- Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller and Lynn --- have each lost some of the sharpness that helped the Cardinals to baseball's best record in the season's early months.

In addition to Lynn's troubles, Miller has given up three or more earned runs in three of his last five starts and Wainwright is coming off back-to-back clunkers against the Reds, both among the worst starts in his career.

"Our success and our struggles have been very closely tied with the quality of starting [pitching] we're getting," Matheny said. "We understood that in the beginning and we understand that now and are trying to work out the kinks."

Despite the recent issues, Matheny believes the Cardinals' hurlers are never far from turning the corner.

"It could be the calm before the storm," Matheny said. "You can't ignore what this group has done from a starting-pitching perspective and just say, 'Well, that was then and this is now.' It's the same group of guys. That potential is there and the ability is there and the desire is there. It's just a matter of getting back to where we know it could be."

Worth noting

• Injured shortstop Rafael Furcal rejoined the Cardinals on Friday at Busch Stadium. Furcal, who underwent Tommy John surgery in March, has been rehabbing his elbow at home in Florida.

"It's good to have him around," Matheny said. "He's got a lot of life and brings excitement around here. There's plenty of excitement already, but it's good to see our guys rehabbing and staying in touch. He's mainly coming in so the medical guys can get their hands on him and continue to evaluate how it's going."

• Left-hander Jaime Garcia is continuing to progress in his throwing program. He threw from 90 feet Friday and, after two days off, is scheduled to throw again Monday.