WASHINGTON -- Two days after Josh Harrison pummeled into Yadier Molina at home plate, the Cardinals catcher returned to the field.

Molina received the go-ahead to start Thursday's series opener against the Nationals after undergoing additional tests earlier in the day. Among those tests was another concussion exam, the third one Molina had taken since the hit. It ruled out any chance that Molina sustained a head injury.

"Every time you get hit in the head, there is danger," Molina said. "I'm impressed that nothing worse happened to me. Right now, I [feel] pretty lucky, because it could have been worse."

Manager Mike Matheny anticipated it would be, and he said on Thursday that he never expected Molina to miss only one game. Matheny, whose career ended because of side effects from multiple concussions, told Molina that he would base his lineup decision not on his own past collision experiences, but on doctor recommendation.

The Cardinals' medical staff expressed no reservations about Molina returning to the field. Molina also reported much less stiffness in his neck, which had still been an issue on Wednesday.

"I gave him my word," Matheny said. "I really didn't want to pass on the struggles that I had and automatically throw them onto him. Just because I have a soft squash doesn't mean that he does. It's just not fair to him. The conversation we had is that if he passes the test and the doctors say he's OK, I'm not going to stop you. I'm going to be extra cautious because I know more about this than any one person should know. I'm not going to compare you to me, but we're going to be real cautious here."

The Cardinals gladly inserted Molina back into the fifth spot in the batting order on Thursday so that he could face Nationals starter Edwin Jackson. Molina entered the night with seven hits in eight career at-bats against Jackson.

Cards hope for best as Furcal feels elbow 'pop'

WASHINGTON -- Unable to straighten his right elbow after feeling a sensation that he described as a "pop" on Thursday night, shortstop Rafael Furcal will travel back to St. Louis on Friday to undergo an MRI exam that will determine the severity of an injury the Cardinals are currently labeling as a right elbow strain.

But several within the organization already fear the reality is much worse. There are concerns that Furcal's season ended on the diamond at Nationals Park.

"It's sore right now," Furcal said after the game, in which he exited in the sixth inning. "It's bad. I cannot extend it. I hope it's nothing bad. I hope it's nothing crazy."

Indications are, though, that it is. There was already some early speculation that Furcal might have damaged his ulnar collateral ligament, which, if damaged severely enough, could require Tommy John surgery to repair. Even if it's just a muscle strain, Furcal would likely be sidelined for several weeks while his club tries to make a push for the postseason.

"It's very concerning," outfielder Matt Holliday said. "He's one of the best shortstops defensively in the league. Even when he doesn't swing the bat well, he brings a lot to the team."

"Any time any of your teammates get hurt, it's sad, disappointing," added starter Jaime Garcia. "But especially [with] a guy like Raffy. He's been huge for us all year. Let's hope for the best."

Manager Mike Matheny, along with the trainer, raced out to check on Furcal after the shortstop threw to second for a sixth-inning forceout. Furcal grimaced during the throw and was rubbing his elbow after.

After a brief conversation -- one in which Furcal lobbied to remain in the game -- Matheny asked for a baseball. He wanted to see if Furcal could make another throw.

"When he did, he winced. That was enough," Matheny said. "That's all we needed to see to know we needed to get him out."

Afterward, Furcal explained that the elbow pain began a few plays earlier in the inning. Washington's Ian Desmond led off the inning with a grounder that took Furcal deep into the hole at short. Furcal said when he fielded the ball and made that throw, he felt "something break, like pop." Three batters later, on a throw he made to home plate, Furcal felt the pop again.

On his third throw of the inning -- the one that brought out his manager -- Furcal said he "felt like a little tingling."

Furcal said that the discomfort does not compare to any injury he's had before. This year he has battled back stiffness, but even that had waned recently. His ability to stay relatively healthy was a boon to the Cardinals, who knew that there was risk to signing him to a two-year, $14 million contract over the winter.

Only once in the previous four seasons had Furcal appeared in at least 100 games. This year, he played in 121 of the team's first 131. And even though his season average has dipped to .264, Furcal has been particularly critical on defense.

"He's been a phenomenal part of this team," Matheny said. "He's had a great season and is one of the better solid defenders I've seen at shortstop. Even losing him for today wasn't good."

In Furcal's absence, Daniel Descalso can step in to start at short. The Cardinals also have some middle-infield options in the Minors, though the club likely won't make a move until rosters can expand beyond 25 players on Saturday. Ryan Jackson, who was sent down after Yadier Molina got knocked out on Tuesday, would be another candidate to take some playing time in Furcal's absence.

Berkman to return Saturday as rosters expand

WASHINGTON -- Manager Mike Matheny said to expect a "couple pitchers and a few position players" to join the Cardinals on Saturday, the first day that clubs can carry more than 25 players on their active rosters.

One of those additions will be first baseman Lance Berkman, who wrapped up his Minor League rehab assignment with Triple-A Memphis on Thursday. Berkman singled in his first at-bat, but was taken out for a pinch-runner because of rain. The Cardinals did not want to risk Berkman doing any more damage to his already compromised knees.

Berkman finished his rehab stint 3-for-17 with three walks and three strikeouts.

Other players the Cardinals want to call up for the season's final month have to be on the club's 40-man roster to be eligible for consideration. There are currently 39 players on that roster, meaning the Cardinals have the flexibility to add someone.

Top pitching prospect Shelby Miller is not on the team's 40-man roster. The Cardinals have been mum in recent days about whether Miller will be rewarded for his recent success by being among the group of pitchers summoned to the Majors.

Beltran to host 'A Night in San Juan' in St. Louis

WASHINGTON -- A pinch of Puerto Rican culture will be sprinkled upon St. Louis next week, as Carlos Beltran is set to host "A Night in San Juan" event to benefit the Carlos Beltran Foundation.

The event, scheduled for Wednesday at the Four Seasons Hotel, will feature Latin cuisine, music and entertainment, as well as performances by professional dancers from the television show "Dancing with the Stars." Several other celebrities, athletes, musicians and actors will also be in attendance.

"I have some friends who I have met in St. Louis who have been taking salsa classes and things like that," said Beltran, a native of Manati, Puerto Rico. "So I said, 'You know what? That would be good to bring what we normally do in Puerto Rico to St. Louis so that people in the Midwest can experience what we do.' I think it's going to be a good thing for the fans. They're going to enjoy it. The players are going to enjoy it too.

"And the good thing is that we have the next day off, so we can dance as much as we want."

All proceeds from "A Night in San Juan" will be donated to Beltran's foundation, which recently opened the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy in Puerto Rico. Beltran said that 140 children are currently enrolled in the Academy, which he monitors from afar during the baseball season and visits regularly over the winter.

The Academy, which cost $10 million to complete, held its first day of classes in August 2011.

"I really enjoy going there and watching those kids do their work. It's a beautiful thing," Beltran said. "I look at myself and the things that I went through and I know there are a lot of kids going through what I went through. I see what God has given me and the opportunity to make a good living out of baseball, and I just decided to do something that was going to impact kids, not just for one year, but for year after year."

To purchase tickets or find out more about sponsorship opportunities for Wednesday's St. Louis event can be found on stlcardinals.com. More information about the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy can be found at http://carlosbeltranacademy.org/.

Worth noting

• With his infield single in the first inning Thursday, Matt Holliday collected the 1,500th hit of his career.

• Right-hander Chris Carpenter is scheduled to throw his second bullpen session on Friday. Carpenter, who is recovering from neurogenic thoracic outlet surgery, threw long toss on Thursday. He threw off the mound on Tuesday for the first time since undergoing the procedure.

• Right-hander Chris Corrigan threw the first perfect game in Palm Beach (Class A Advanced) history on Wednesday night. Corrigan struck out nine of the 27 batters he retired. Corrigan, a 30th-round pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, is 4-8 with a 4.02 ERA in 20 games (16 appearances) with Palm Beach this season.

• Outfielder Anthony Garcia and designated hitter Colin Walsh of low-Class A Quad Cities were both named to the Midwest League postseason All-Star team. Garcia, who is currently on the disabled list, has 19 home runs, 56 extra-bases and 208 total bases in 109 games. Walsh leads the Midwest League in slugging percentage (.538) and on-base percentage (.419). He is batting .314 with 16 homers.

• Matt Carpenter twisted his ankle taking fielding practice prior to Thursday's game and was still hobbling around the clubhouse after the game. Carpenter hurt his ankle while doing work at second base, a position he has played only sparingly this season.