Craig still hopeful for Opening Day return
JUPITER, Fla. – Cardinals outfielder Allen Craig has yet to pick up a bat or ball since catching the final out of the World Series but maintains hope of being on the active roster when the regular season opens April 4.
Craig, recovering from offseason surgery to repair a fractured kneecap, has spent the past month in Florida rehabbing at the Cardinals’ Spring Training complex at Roger Dean Stadium.
“I’m feeling really good,” Craig said. “I’ve made a lot of progress since the day I had surgery three months ago. I’m excited with where I am. It’s been a long road but I’ve been working hard every day to try and get back.
“It’s kind of a tough thing because you want to push it and try to get back as soon as you can but you have to stay patient at the same time and that’s kind of where I’m at, but I feel good.”
Craig missed 54 games in June and July after fracturing his right knee when he banged into a fence in Houston while trying to catch a foul pop up in right field. He returned August 10 and finished out the season despite not being 100 percent healed.
Playing with a significant more amount of pain than he let on, Craig was huge for the Cardinals down the stretch and in the playoffs. He had pinch-hit, go-ahead RBI singles in the late innings of both Game 1 and Game 2 of the World Series against Texas.
Craig hit three home runs in the World Series, including a go-ahead shot in Game 7, to help the Cardinals defeat the Rangers in an unforgettable Fall Classic. He also robbed a home run in Game 7, jumping above the wall to make a run-saving catch.
“I was hurting a little bit in the World Series but I tell people I wasn’t in excruciating pain, it was just an annoyance,” Craig said. “It was stiff and just something I needed to get taken care of but the World Series was a huge confidence builder all the way around.
“Regardless of being injured, just being able to be on that stage with the guys and perform and win it was a great experience and something I think we can all look back on as a confidence booster definitely.”
With position players not required to arrive in Jupiter until Thursday, Craig has been arriving for his rehab about the time pitchers and catchers are heading home.
Craig plans to alter his pattern and arrive with his teammates beginning Friday morning but for now, rehabbing in the afternoon has allowed him an empty weight room and plenty of attention from the Cardinals medical staff.
“Everything is right on track,” said manager Mike Matheny. “What they were hoping for, they are there. He’s working hard. He’s been in here at the end of the day every day and he’s putting his time in.
“He’s pretty motivated to prove everybody wrong when they start putting timelines on him which is what he should be doing, but we’ve got a program and we’re going to stick with it.”
Craig spent close to four hours Wednesday afternoon rehabbing and lifting weights as he looks to regain strength in his right leg. He departed the Cardinals complex well after the rest of his teammates.
“I have to get my right quad stronger because when I had surgery that leg kind of shut down so I have to get it stronger and that’s kind of where all the attention is at right now,” Craig said. “Not to say that I couldn’t go out and play catch and hit in the cage right now but we’re kind of using all the energy I have in the day to work out in the gym.
“I’m anticipating getting out on the field hopefully pretty soon and stretching and doing some agility drills and playing catch with the guys and hopefully working my way in as camp goes.”
Craig, who hit .315 with 11 home runs and 40 RBI for the Cardinals in 75 games last year, was slated to be the every day right-fielder this season with Lance Berkman moving to first.
But with Craig on the mend and his return date unknown, the Cardinals added All-Star Carlos Beltran to the outfield mix. Craig is hoping to return by Opening Day to ensure he’s not lost in the shuffle among outfielders.
Craig could return to the field as early as the Cardinals’ first full-squad workout on Friday, but only for light catch and stretching. He will likely have to pass a strength test, possibly sometime next week, before he can begin running and hitting.
While the club has publicly said they are not counting on Craig returning until May, the outfielder is holding out that he can return by Opeing Day.
“The original prognoses was four-to-six months and I believe May is six months,” Craig said. “I like to think positively so anywhere in the four-to-five month range would be fine with me and five months is around Opening Day.
“That’s been a goal of mine since I’ve had the surgery, to be ready for Opening Day and be on the roster and get the rings with the guys and I’m sticking to it. Hopefully I can make it happen.”