Cardinals positive injury update on Sonny Gray, Lars Nootbaar creates spark of hope

St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Lars Nootbaar
St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Lars Nootbaar / Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Cardinals got the 2024 season off on the wrong foot on Thursday with a 7-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Friday brought some good news to take the mind off that result.

The Cardinals started the campaign without Lars Nootbaar in the outfield or top free-agent acquisition Sonny Gray on the mound. They're both making good progress towards getting back on the field.

Gray would have been the Opening Day starter instead of Miles Mikolas but he suffered a hamstring injury during spring training. He threw three innings in a simulated game on Friday and is ready to start a rehab stint with Memphis next week.

The plan for Gray was to have him back by the series against the Phillies on Apr. 8. Being able to pitch with Memphis would mean he's right on track with that timeline.

Gray spent the last two seasons pitching in Minnesota, earning an All-Star nod last year. It was the third of his career with three different teams, including the Twins, Reds and A's. The Cardinals would love to see him make it four-for-four. First, he needs to get healthy enough to take the mound.

Lars Nootbaar had no pain in simulated game

Manager Oli Marmol also gave details on Nootbaar's recovery from rib fractures he suffered during spring training. He felt no pain while completing eight at-bats in a simulated game on Friday. He's going to see how he feels after four innings of offense and defense on Saturday.

Nootbaar is still young but he has looked on the verge of a breakout season. His WAR increased from 2.1 to 3.3 from 2022 to 2023. His OPS+ was 115 last year. A freak rib injury was not the way anyone wanted to see his 2024 season begin.

The absence of pain signals he could be close to returning.

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