By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(AP) -- Carlos Beltran doesn't like to miss games, and he may not have to for the time being.
The St. Louis Cardinals, though, don't seem to be missing him.
Beltran may be back in the lineup for the first time in four games as the Cardinals try to sweep a two-game set from the San Francisco Giants on Thursday.
A sore and stiff right knee has kept Beltran on the bench for three games, leaving St. Louis (22-15) without its leader in home runs (13) and RBIs (32). He was rested again Wednesday, when the Cardinals won 4-1 at San Francisco (18-19).
Beltran, batting .295, had been plagued by injuries over his past three seasons with the New York Mets and the Giants.
"I don't like to miss games," Beltran told the Cardinals' official website. "But I want to make sure that when I do come back I'm ready to go.
"There's no doubt I feel a lot better than I did. It doesn't bother me when I hit. It's when I play the outfield or run the bases. When I play again, I want to play at a high level. I have to be ready to play defense."
That could mean Beltran taking the field at AT&T Park for the first time since leaving the Giants for the Cardinals via free agency during the offseason. He hit .323 with seven homers and 18 RBIs in 44 games with San Francisco in 2011, when the club fell short of reaching the playoffs.
If Beltran isn't ready, St. Louis may need another strong performance from David Freese, who had a solo homer among his three hits Wednesday to snap his 0-for-16 slump over the previous five games.
"I'm not looking at it like I'm finally getting breaks, because I've been terrible the last week," Freese said.
The third baseman is 9 for 15 with two homers and four RBIs in his last five games against the Giants - all at San Francisco.
Matt Cain (2-2, 2.28 ERA) is scheduled to take the mound for the Giants in an effort to slow down Freese.
The right-hander has a 1.59 ERA in his past six starts, but has just two wins to show for it thanks in part to getting an average of 2.58 runs of support. That lack of help has been more pronounced at home, where he's 1-1 with a 1.09 ERA in four starts while being backed by nine total runs.
Cain didn't need much help from the bats Saturday, yielding one run and three hits with eight strikeouts in seven innings of a 5-2 win at Arizona. He also helped himself with two hits, including a two-run double.
"That's the nice part about being in the National League," he said, "is you feel like you can benefit to the team in different ways, whether it's getting a bunt down or doing different things. You always love to be able to contribute when you have a chance to at the plate."
Cain is 1-2 with a 4.29 ERA in six starts versus St. Louis.
The Cardinals will turn to Adam Wainwright (2-4, 6.16), who is looking to show some improvement in order to win for the third time in four starts.
The right-hander labored through his latest outing Saturday, throwing a season-high 108 pitches through 4 1-3 innings while allowing five runs and nine hits with a career-high five walks in a 7-2 loss to Atlanta.
Getting the ball in San Francisco may not bode well for Wainwright - he's lost his last three starts there with a 4.09 ERA.
Updated May 17, 2012