Allen Craig could make the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster as a pinch-hitter

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The original expectation was that Allen Craig would miss the first month of the season following November surgery on his right knee, but it now appears that he is a realistic option for the Opening Day roster.

Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Craig took batting practice on the major league side this morning and is likely open the season as a pinch-hitter off the bench.

Craig began playing in minor-league games this week, though he has yet to play in the field. The Cardinals might not clear him for full-game action until mid-April or so, but he could still have some value as a right-handed bat. Once he’s fully-recovered, new Cardinals’ manager Mike Matheny will have to find ways to fit him into the lineup. The most obvious possibility is sitting Jon Jay against tough left-handers while playing Carlos Beltran in center field and Craig in right.

Craig, 27, has a .290/.339/.503 batting line and an .842 OPS over his first 343 plate appearances in the majors. He clubbed four home runs during the Cardinals’ postseason run last year, including three against the Rangers in the World Series.

Will Middlebrooks carted off field with left ankle injury

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Phillies third baseman Will Middlebrooks suffered a serious injury during Saturday’s Grapefruit League contest against the Orioles. The infielder was chasing down a pop fly in the eighth inning when he ran into left fielder Andrew Pullin, who inadvertently trapped Middlebrooks’ ankle under his leg. Middlebrooks was unable to put weight on his leg following the collision and was carted off the field and taken to a local hospital for X-rays.

Per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki, not much is known yet about the severity of the ankle injury or the recovery time it will require, though it appears serious enough to set Middlebrooks back considerably as he seeks a backup/bench role with the team this spring.

The 29-year-old is currently seeking another opportunity to extend his six-year major-league career in 2018. He’s coming off of two down years with the Brewers and Rangers, during which he slashed a cumulative .169/.229/.262 with four extra bases through 70 plate appearances.