STL@NYM: Freese takes Hefner deep with a solo homer

PHOENIX -- Though Mike Matheny continues to receive encouraging reports about David Freese's work down in Florida, the Cardinals manager is not ready to promise the third baseman a place in the team's lineup for Monday's home opener.

That April 8 game remains a target date for Freese to come off the disabled list, though he still has  checkpoints to pass before he is removed. One of the most important will be his ability to play nine pain-free innings and then recover appropriately. Freese, whose back injury traces back to a spill he took into the stands during a March 4 game, did not play nine innings in a Grapefruit League game this spring.

"We're not ruling out that he'll be there on Monday, but we're also not ruling out that he might need a little more time," Matheny said. "We're looking everything over. He's really kind of pushing the envelope of trying to be ready by Monday, and we wanted him to kind of push that. But we need to make sure that he's ready to play a full game before we risk bringing him back to St. Louis."

According to Matheny, Freese's back responded well to the cardio work he did on Tuesday. The Cardinals still tentatively plan to have Freese play in extended spring training games on Friday and Saturday.

"Obviously, we don't have our own eyes on him, so we're going to have to hear exactly what they're seeing and how he's moving," Matheny said. "We have to see how he bounces back. We just don't have a lot of time to get as much information as we need. We'll take everything into consideration."

Robinson hopes to make most of limited time

STL@WSH: Robinson hits grand slam in the fifth inning

PHOENIX -- Outfielder Shane Robinson secured a spot on the Cardinals roster with a terrific spring but is now left with the challenge of maintaining that momentum while playing only sparingly.

Robinson led the team with a .458 Grapefruit League average (minimum 25 at-bats) and ranked third on the club with 14 RBIs. He never went more than two games without a hit, something Robinson credits to a simplified approach that he hopes will help him as a pinch-hitter.

"It's a challenge not being in there every day, but I'll have treat my work in the cage and during BP almost like a game-type situation so that I can stay fresh and not lose what I had going in spring," Robinson said. "Last year, I think I was kind of still working with my swing and understanding what I needed to do as a pinch-hitter off the bench. This year, I found my swing early in the spring."

Finding playing time for Robinson will be a tricky task for manager Mike Matheny. Robinson will be called upon to play center when Jon Jay needs a breather, though scheduled days off are a rarity for Jay. Robinson could slide into either corner outfield spots, too, but with Matt Adams on the roster, those assignments look increasingly likely to go to Allen Craig.

By playing Craig in the outfield, the Cardinals would be able to plug the power-hitting Adams in at first base.

Robinson said he believes he will also be helped by the experience of having inconsistent playing time while on the Major League roster last year. Though Robinson appeared in 102 games for the Cardinals in 2012, he started only 29 times. Robinson had 11 hits in 50 pinch-hit at-bats. It marked the first extended period of his career where he wasn't an everyday player.

"Now is the challenge of trying to take what [he] had and keep it there, which is hard to do when you're not getting a lot of opportunities," Matheny said. "He's got a pretty good idea now of what it looks like to be on the bench. You really have to be prepared to work twice as hard as the guys who are playing every day."

Beltran's broken toe is tested in Arizona

STL@ARI: Prado doubles for first D-backs hit

PHOENIX -- Playing with a fractured right toe, Carlos Beltran hardly had the opportunity to ease in defensively on Monday. Arizona's offense kept Beltran active in right field throughout its 6-2 win over St. Louis, leading to a curious analysis of how much -- if any -- that injured toe inhibited Beltran's movement.

He contended that it didn't -- "I feel good," Beltran said -- and Matheny cited the expansive outfield dimensions as a factor in so many balls finding holes. Asked if Beltran seemed at all slowed by the injury, Matheny answered, "Carlos is deceiving on how he's moving. The right-center gap is a big gap. The ball carries here. It's hard to defend here."

Beltran was back in the lineup on Tuesday, though Matheny has vowed to be proactive in giving the veteran outfielder rest throughout the season in order to guard against the late-season wear and tear Beltran dealt with in 2012. The first of Beltran's off-days is expected to happen before the end of this road trip.

"We're playing it by ear, but also trying to put some plans in place," Matheny said. "We'll see what we see, and we always listen to the player. But also we have some ideas of what we're going to do."

Worth noting

• Triple-A Memphis opens its season on Thursday, but those wanting to get their first glimpse of pitching prospect Michael Wacha will have to wait until Saturday to do so. Wacha, the Cardinals' top pick from the 2012 First-Year Player Draft who shined in Spring Training, will make his Triple-A debut in the third game of the Redbirds' season.

Righty John Gast will start Memphis' opener; Seth Maness, who was named the organization's pitcher of the year in 2012, gets the nod for the second game. Left-handers Tyler Lyons and Nick Additon round out the Triple-A rotation.

• Prior to Tuesday's game, manager Mike Matheny lauded the extended at-bats that Arizona took during the middle innings of Monday's game, noting that the approach looked much like the one the Cardinals preach. Perhaps, that's because the D-backs have used St. Louis as a model club.

After watching the quality of the Cardinals' at-bats in Game 5 of the National League Division Series last October, Arizona manager Kirk Gibson told MLB.com that he was struck by the right combination of plate discipline, aggressiveness and patience the Cardinals showed.

"I thought that [ninth] inning as I looked at it [and] I was like, 'Yeah, that's it, that's good stuff,'" Gibson said. "It was certainly something that I looked and said that's really what you're trying to accomplish. They were down to their last strike."

• With his start on Monday, Pete Kozma became the seventh different shortstop the Cardinals have had start on Opening Day over the last seven years. The previous six include: Rafael Furcal, Ryan Theriot, Brendan Ryan, Khalil Green, Cesar Izturis and David Eckstein.