Craig optimistic for return if Cards make deep run

ST. LOUIS — The Cardinals’ hopes for making a run to the World Series became a bit tougher Friday when the team said All-Star first baseman Allen Craig remains weeks from returning.

The Cardinals’ most productive hitter, Craig suffered a left foot sprain when trying to make the turn at first base on Sept. 4. Initially, the club was optimistic that Craig would return by the end of the regular season. After he was examined on Thursday, however, the team determined that the injury has not healed enough for Craig to come back.

“It’s devastating not to be able to finish the season,” Craig said Friday. “I progressed a little bit in the recovery but I didn’t get clearance to play. It’s really frustrating but I’m trying to move on from it.”

Craig has been hitting off a tee but running would put the foot in jeopardy of greater injury. A setback potentially could keep him out for part of next season or even become  career-threatening, general manager John Mozeliak said.

“The ligament stability is good,” Mozeliak said. “If we were to push it and there would be a breakdown, then it could be compromised and that’s when the foot would then (go) flat. That would be very bad.”

Mozeliak said surgery should not be needed for what the club now is calling a Lisfranc injury, which is rare in baseball. Craig said treatment consists mainly of resting and not putting any stress on the injured foot. He remains in a walking boot that he says he wears “as much as I possibly can.”

While Craig remains optimistic that he could return if the Cardinals play deep enough into October, he does not know when the foot will be examined again. “Maybe in a couple of weeks,” he said.

Thanks to the slugging of rookie Matt Adams, the Cardinals have not suffered an offensive letdown in the absence of Craig, who has become the game’s best clutch hitter the past two seasons. The first-time All-Star was hitting .454 with runners in scoring position, the highest such mark in the majors since Tony Gwynn hit .459 in 1997. Craig led the majors with a .400 average with RISP in 2012.

Since stepping in, Adams is hitting .338 with eight homers, second most in the majors since Sept. 4. With Adams in the everyday lineup, however, The Cardinals’ bench has become compromised. Brock Peterson, a 29-year-old called up for the first time this season, is a leading contender to take Craig’s spot on the postseason roster. Though Peterson hit 25 homers for Class AAA Memphis, he has two singles in 25 at-bats in spot duty in the big leagues.

Craig played in the 2011 World Series with a broken kneecap and delivered key home runs in the Cardinals’ Game 6 and 7 victories. Offseason surgery limited him to 119 games in 2012 when he still drove in 92 runs. He will finish shy of the 100-RBI milestone again, with 97 in 134 games.

“It’s not something you can play sore through,” Craig said. “If that was the case, I would be out there yesterday.

“It’s important to stay optimistic. It’s a serious injury. I’m going to recover fully. Hopefully there’s a good chance I can recover by the end of the season if we can get to the NLCS or World Series. You never know.”

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