ST. LOUIS -- Hampered by injuries for the better part of a month, the Cardinals' bullpen spent the past seven days inching closer to full strength.
Tyler Lyons returned from a back injury last weekend. Matt Bowman threw a bullpen Saturday, his second since he sustained blisters on his throwing hand. Luke Gregerson (right shoulder impingement) threw again Friday, and could be back on a mound by next week.
Separate of all this inertia is Dominic Leone, who remains out indefinitely with nerve damage in his right bicep region. Leone no longer feels the tingling and numbness that engulfed his upper throwing arm after a "scary" spasm forced him from game action May 5. But now, a month removed from the incident, Leone has not yet been cleared to throw and remains unaware of when he will be.
"It's this weird waiting game where you don't really know what you're waiting on," Leone said. "It's so frustrating, not only for me, but for everybody I'm working with."
What doctors are waiting for, Leone said, is for the damaged nerves in his right arm to "self re-generate," a process for which there are few baseball comparables. Pitchers more commonly suffer from a nerve condition called thoracic outlet syndrome, which involves the ribs and is considered more serious. Leone's injury is believed to affect the nerves in his arm alone, making it distinct from thoracic. But that's also made answers more difficult to come by.
"I still have yet to receive a true diagnosis as to why it happened, and it might never come," Leone said. "Any other injury, you have a timetable."
While he waits, Leone's days have consisted of a training regimen heavy in conditioning, core work and massage therapy. Recently, that's grown to include light arm strengthening and shoulder rehab, the first step to a recovery that still appears lengthy. Acquired from the Blue Jays as part of a package for Randal Grichuk this winter, Leone spent much of spring as a candidate to close games and received several late-inning opportunies over the season's first few weeks. The righty pitched to a 4.15 ERA over his first 15 appearances overall.
"It's brutal not being able to be a part of this group," Leone said. "Its evident from all the walk-off wins we have, these guys are fighters. I'd do anything to be a part of it."
On top of the expected returns of Yadier Molina and Carlos Martinez, the Cardinals will also have a player leaving the team prior to Tuesday's series opener against the Marlins. Greg Garcia is planning to go on paternity leave and miss games on Tuesday and Wednesday, while he and his wife, Hannah, welcome the birth of their first child. Garcia's wife is due to deliver a baby girl named Olivia sometime on Tuesday.
Bader, Munoz back to bench
For the first time in a week, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny wrote out a lineup Saturday that didn't include Harrison Bader or Yairo Munoz. Bader was back on the bench after making five straight starts, while St. Louis returned its regular veteran outfield alignment of Marcell Ozuna, Tommy Pham and William Fowler. Munoz sat for the first time in seven games while Garcia got the start at short against Pirates righty Chad Kuhl.
Both had buoyed the Cardinals on both sides of the ball over the past week, which Bader and Munoz spent entrenched in the lineup. Bader hit .435 (10-for-23) over the past seven games, adding a number of highlight-reel defensive plays in the process. Munoz hit .360 (9-for-25) with a walk-off-three run homer to win Thursday's series opener filling in for injured shortstop Paul DeJong.
"They've had nice weeks, but that doesn't mean you play them every single day the rest of the way," Matheny said. "There will be days we have to keep everybody as fresh as we can. Find those matchups that look right. We have three other outfielders who, at the beginning of the season, we planned on writing in there every single day.
"We've been able to give Harrison some opportunities and he's made the most of them. What a weapon he can be offensively, defensively and on the bases. He's done everything he can possibly do to make himself part of that conversation every day. But it doesn't mean he's going to play every day."