ST. LOUIS -- To gain proper perspective on the defensive showcase Daniel Descalso has put on -- particularly in recent weeks -- it's really not necessary to go much beyond Adam Wainwright's weekend assessment of the utility infielder.
"Daniel Descalso is amazing. He's a human highlight reel," Wainwright said. "It seems like he gets to balls that most guys don't, and he makes that diving play as good as I've seen ever."
Descalso's defense has shined recently, and the Cardinals couldn't have asked for it to come at a better time. Back stiffness and the need to ensure the ailment doesn't worsen have kept Rafael Furcal out of the Cardinals' lineup in six of the team's last eight games. In all of them, Descalso has started in Furcal's place.
And when he's not playing short, Descalso has recently been the second baseman du jour, with the consistent playing time a reward for the stability he's providing in the field.
"I always feel good about my defense," Descalso said. "That's one thing that has been consistent for me ever since I've been up here."
Indeed, Descalso has long been considered an above-average defender. He was even recognized as a finalist for the Rawlings Gold Glove Award at third base last season, despite only starting 61 games at the position.
But infield coach Jose Oquendo is among those who believe Descalso has been even better this year. The biggest improvement, Oquendo said, has been on the mental side. No longer does Descalso need to rely much on Oquendo for instruction on where to position himself. He's picking up tendencies on his own.
"He is more aware of how to play the hitters," Oquendo said. "He sees what [catcher] Yadier [Molina] is doing behind the plate and positions himself to have a better chance. He's doing great. When Furcal needs a day off, we have someone that fills in well enough that, defensively, we don't miss much."
Garcia optimistic, but cautious about return
ST. LOUIS -- Jaime Garcia, who returned to St. Louis on Sunday, spoke optimistically, but also cautiously, about the progress he is making during his ongoing Minor League rehab stint.
Garcia, while encouraged by the results of his two Minor League starts thus far, would not go so far as to say that his arm feels as good as it did before a left shoulder impingement forced him onto the disabled list in early June. Garcia most recently pitched on Saturday, when he threw 64 pitches in a Double-A start for Springfield.
"It's definitely better," Garcia said of his arm. "I don't want to say that it's where it used to be two years ago or that it is 100 percent. But I can definitely feel the difference."
Garcia's expectation is that his next rehab start -- which will come in Double-A against San Antonio on Thursday -- will be his last one. His pitch count will likely be pushed into the 80-90 range, which would leave the left-hander stretched out enough to be considered ready for the big league rotation.
"I think I'm definitely making progress, but that next start that I have, I think it's definitely going to be huge just to go out there build up the pitch count a little bit more," Garcia said. "[I can] get the confidence and be a little more consistent with my mechanics and have a little better command with my pitches."
The Cardinals have not confirmed Garcia's assumption that he'll be coming off the DL following Thursday's start, and the organization likely won't make its plans public until after Garcia pitches next. On Garcia's schedule, too, is to throw a bullpen session in St. Louis before he travels to Texas.
In the two Minor League rehab appearances he's made, Garcia has allowed one run on six hits in 6 2/3 innings. He has not walked a batter and has struck out six.
"I can definitely feel the difference from before, and that's all I'm asking for," Garcia said. "I know it's going to take some time to get to where it's going to be 100 percent, but I'm willing to do whatever I need to do to get back there."
With Garcia coming back, tough decisions await
ST. LOUIS -- Not only are the Cardinals abstaining from announcing when they plan to insert Jaime Garcia back into the starting rotation, but the club is also not revealing how it intends to do so.
Right now, St. Louis has a solid rotation of five that has posted a combined 3.29 ERA in Garcia's absence. So what kind of wrinkle will Garcia's return create?
Manager Mike Matheny basically shut down speculation of a true six-man rotation, noting on Sunday that "we haven't talked about that." That's not to say, though, that the Cardinals couldn't utilize a modified five-man rotation with six pitchers.
With Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly on track to throw more innings than either has in one season before, the Cardinals are already weighing how far both can be pushed. Then there's the case of Adam Wainwright. While Wainwright has thrown more than 230 regular-season innings twice in his career, he is coming off a season in which he threw zero.
If the Cardinals want to find opportunities to rest any of these pitchers without removing them entirely from the rotation, they could do so by subbing pitchers in and out each time through the rotation. The issue with this format, as Matheny pointed out, is that it could make it tough for everyone to maintain a consistent routine.
"We just want to get all our players healthy and then we'll figure out how to use them the best way we can," Matheny said. "We've been thinking about this for a long time, since [Garcia] went down. [We're] trying to figure out what's best for us and what's best for everybody. We'll address that when we get to it."
The most obvious option, of course, is to drop a current member of the rotation and replace him with Garcia. That would likely cost Kelly his spot, though the Cardinals could also use this as an opportunity to move Lynn to the bullpen. Doing so would not only help lower Lynn's workload, but it would inject a power arm into the back end of the 'pen.
The Cardinals' rotation plans likely won't be announced until after Garcia wraps up his time in the Minors. Garcia said on Sunday that he anticipates he'll be ready to come off the disabled list after his Double-A outing next Thursday.
• Manager Mike Matheny sat Rafael Furcal on Sunday, giving the shortstop his first day off since Furcal's return from a bout of back stiffness. Furcal started the first two games of this series. Moving forward, the Cardinals plan to be especially cautious with Furcal, who recently missed five games due to the back problem.
"We're going to have to be careful with him," Matheny said. "Or, we're going to lose him."
• The Giants will make their only stop of the season in St. Louis this week and have set their rotation for the four-game series as follows: Matt Cain (10-4, 2.82 ERA) will pitch on Monday and will be followed by Barry Zito (8-8, 4.27), Ryan Vogelsong (12-6, 3.03) and Madison Bumgarner (11-6, 3.09).
The Cardinals and Giants split a two-game series in San Francisco in May.
• The Cardinals selected outfielder Mike O'Neill and left-hander John Gast as the organization's Player and Pitcher of the Month for July.
O'Neill, a 31st-round pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, hit .350 with 20 runs scored, 11 RBIs, eight doubles and three triples in 27 July games with Class A Advanced Palm Beach. He hit safely in all but one game during the month. O'Neill currently leads the Florida State League with a .344 average and .446 on-base percentage.
Gast, a member of the Triple-A Memphis rotation, went 3-0 with a 2.70 ERA in five July starts. He struck out 30 and walked just five in 30 innings. Gast has pitched in both Double-A and Triple-A this season. His 12 wins are the most among all Cardinals Minor Leaguers.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.