WASHINGTON -- Despite clearly having trouble extending his left shoulder on Friday, Yadier Molina reported feeling improved enough on Saturday to be back in the Cardinals' starting lineup.

"We had a good talk," manager Mike Matheny said. "I always give them until the next day to see how he feels. I could tell yesterday that he just wasn't responding. Today he came in much better. He just knows right now, more so than ever, that you have to push. He doesn't want to miss it. I respect that."

The left shoulder soreness is one of the side effects Molina has dealt with since being bowled over by Pittsburgh's Josh Harrison during a collision at home plate on Tuesday. Molina sat out Wednesday with what he described mostly as neck pain.

He said the discomfort moved from his neck to his shoulder on Friday. It showed, too, as Molina was not as agile behind the plate. Cardinals pitchers threw three wild pitches in the game.

"That's not an excuse," Molina said of the soreness. "I'm playing the game. My shoulder felt a little weak. Today it feels better."

The shoulder/neck soreness, Molina said, has not been a bother on the offensive end. He is 1-for-5 since the collision.

Cards hopeful Furcal can avoid surgery on elbow

WASHINGTON -- Cardinals medical director George Paletta examined Rafael Furcal on Friday night and diagnosed the shortstop with a Grade 2 strain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. That means that Tommy John surgery, at least for the time being, is off the table.

The Cardinals are hopeful that aggressive therapy, rehab and rest will be enough to address the injury. Manager Mike Matheny passed along an expected recovery time of four to six weeks for Furcal, though even Matheny noted that the actual downtime will likely be on the high end of that range.

There's the potential that it could take longer, and surgery can't be entirely ruled out until the medical staff sees how Furcal responds with the non-invasive treatment.

Furcal suffered the elbow injury in Thursday's loss. After the game, he described feeling a pop in his elbow while making a throw. The Cardinals sent Furcal back to St. Louis on Friday so that the shortstop could be examined by Paletta.

The severity of the injury means that Furcal will not be able to contribute for the rest of the regular season. The range of recovery time does leave open the long-shot possibility that Furcal could be available late in postseason play, if the Cardinals advance deep again.

However, the Cardinals are moving forward with the expectation that Furcal won't be back in uniform until 2013.

"That would be a nice surprise," Matheny said of seeing Furcal in October. "But right now we're just setting ourselves up each day to figure out who gives us the best chance at shortstop."

Carpenter provides spark on improved ankle

WASHINGTON -- Matt Carpenter's bum right ankle improved drastically overnight, so much so that a day after hardly being able to put pressure on it, Carpenter started at first base Saturday for the Cardinals. His presence was critical, too, in the Cardinals' ability to end a four-game losing streak with a 10-9 win over Washington on Saturday.

Carpenter delivered a go-ahead, three-run double with two outs in the fourth to give the Cardinals their first lead since Monday.

"I think the spark part is really what you can't help but notice," manager Mike Matheny said of Carpenter. "When that guy is in the lineup, it changes a little bit. We needed a little change.

"It was a push to get him in there today. I absolutely applaud him and the training staff. They really worked hard on him and gave him a round of tests this morning that gave us the green light to do that."

Carpenter's sprained ankle had worsened enough on Friday that the club had him undergo X-rays to ensure that he didn't sustain a fracture. Those X-rays came back clean, and a day later, Carpenter unexpectedly had no limitations.

"The fact that I felt good enough to play was kind of surprising," Carpenter said. "I got to the point where I could get it done and I felt like I could play. I'm glad I was in there."

Carpenter arrived at Nationals Park before almost anyone on Saturday to begin that treatment and to put his ankle through some mobility tests.

His availability allowed Matheny the flexibility to give right fielder Carlos Beltran the day off. Even that residual effect was big. Beltran came off the bench with a game-tying RBI single in the eighth.

Carpenter sustained the ankle injury working on a double play turn at second base during pregame infield drills on Thursday. He has been taking work at second in case the Cardinals want to try him at the position again this season.

That defensive work, Carpenter said, will continue in earnest this offseason.

"I think it just goes back to kind of the same mentality I had coming into Spring Training," Carpenter said. "I look at what we have as a group and I have to try to find a fit. Next year, if I can get to the point where I can play good second base, I can play. It's more of just common sense.... I feel like I can do it, and I feel like that's my best chance to get in the lineup every day."

Worth noting

• The Cardinals rested Carlos Beltran on Saturday, moving Allen Craig to right field to give the slumping outfielder a chance to catch his breath. Beltran has hit .214 in 43 games since the All-Star break. That has brought his season average down to .267. Beltran is 4-for-30 in the first eight games of this road trip.

• Top pitching prospect Shelby Miller made his final start of the season for Triple-A Memphis on Friday. He struck out nine in a winning six-inning effort. Miller allowed one earned run on five hits and no walks. He finished August with a 5-1 record and 2.89 ERA in six starts.

• The Cardinals' loss on Friday was their seventh straight at Nationals Park. St. Louis' last win here came more than two years ago. The club is 6-10 here all-time.

• Short-season Batavia sits one game behind first-place Auburn in the Pinckney division of the New York-Penn League. Including Saturday's game, the club has five games remaining as it makes a push for a postseason berth.