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.