ST. LOUIS -- For the first time this postseason, manager Mike Matheny had to tweak his starting lineup.
With Carlos Beltran still dealing with a left knee strain, Matheny sat his starting right fielder for Game 4 of the National League Championship Series vs. the Giants on Thursday. Beltran expressed a level of optimism, however, after the team's 8-3 win, that he'd be cleared to return to the field on Friday.
"Right now, the plan is to come tomorrow and do what I have to do to be in the lineup," Beltran said. "Today was a better day for me, better than yesterday. Tomorrow is a day where I need to go for it."
Beltran's sore left knee did not preclude him from taking swings in the batting cage before and during Wednesday's game. He took cuts from both sides, and let Matheny know in-game that he felt good enough to pinch-hit, if needed. With the runaway win, Matheny didn't need to make such a move.
Beltran was also able to put his legs through some light jogging.
Beltran had arrived at the ballpark earlier in the day already encouraged by the improvement, noting that he felt substantially better a day after feeling what he described as a "pinch in the lower part of my quad, close to the knee." He sustained the injury while crossing first base after grounding into a double play.
Beltran, who has had recurring issues with both of his knees for years, had an MRI on his left knee on Wednesday night. It confirmed that the veteran outfielder had not suffered any structural damage.
"Comparing the way I felt yesterday to the way I feel today, I'm better," Beltran said as his teammates took batting practice prior to Game 4. "But it's still sore. Hopefully, one more day will give me the chance to get a lot of treatment today. Right now, my concern is just being able to play in the outfield."
Taking Beltran's place as the No. 2 hitter in the lineup was Game 3 hero Matt Carpenter. Carpenter slid to the infield to play first base and went 1-for-3 with two walks and two runs scored. Allen Craig, the team's cleanup hitter, moved into right field.
Craig had been the team's first baseman in all nine playoff games this month, but he has extensive experience playing right field. Carpenter, a natural third baseman, has made his mark this season by showing he can play both corner-infield and both corner-outfield spots.
"It's more where they feel comfortable than anything else," Matheny said of the alignment. "We've had this discussion through the season, and Allen Craig has always been very vocal that he's comfortable at first base and, to me, he's improved. But he feels more comfortable in the outfield. And the same could be said for Matt Carpenter. It's a more natural position for him on the infield."
Without Beltran, the Cardinals were without one of the best postseason hitters of all-time. His at-bats-per-home run ratio of eight is tops in playoff history. Beltran owns a .380 postseason batting average, and he opened this NLCS with three extra-base hits in eight at-bats.
Because Wednesday's MRI came up clean, Beltran said he has not yet discussed the possibility of having any sort of minor offseason procedure on his left knee, which actually had been the stronger of his two during the regular season.
"It was painful. No doubt," Beltran said. "In order for me to take myself out of a game, it has to be painful. But the good thing is that I woke up a little bit better today, and, hopefully, tomorrow I'll wake up feeling even better."
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.