ST. LOUIS -- Garrett Stephenson, who beat the clock in his recovery from elbow surgery, doesn't intend to let lower back spasms sideline him for long.
The St. Louis Cardinals right-hander, who returned to the rotation less than a year after his major operation, left his last start on Sunday when his back locked up after three innings. He rehabbed in St. Louis while the team left for the first leg of a season-long 13-game trip, and could make his scheduled start Friday at Milwaukee.
"It just doesn't make sense sometimes, but it's all muscle," Stephenson said. "So hopefully I'll have a pretty good chance to make my start. It'll probably be one of those little three-day things."
Mark O'Neal, one of the team's trainers working with Stephenson, said the pitcher was much improved on Monday, and again on Tuesday. He planned to forward a positive report to the team.
That's potentially good news for a suddenly thin rotation. The Cardinals entered spring training with seven bona fide starting candidates before subtracting left-hander Rick Ankiel (elbow tendinitis) and right-hander Woody Williams (pulled side muscle) from the equation.
Ankiel was scheduled to begin a light throwing program this week.
A third starter, Andy Benes, has struggled in all three of his starts. He has lasted a total of 10 innings.
Williams could return to the rotation by mid-May and Ankiel in late May.
"Things like this happen," Stephenson said. "The starters will come out later on in the year and we'll pick up the bullpen."
If Stephenson (0-2) can't pitch Friday, the Cardinals have a pair of options in right-handers Travis Smith and Josh Pearce.