Yadi continues to turn heads; Westbrook calls him slam-dunk NL MVP

News-DemocratJune 19, 2013 

— Yadier Molina won't engage in any conversation about his chances of winning a National League batting championship.

It stands to reason, therefore, that the St. Louis Cardinals catcher also wants nothing to do with talk about him being the league's Most Valuable Player.

Others, however, aren't as hesitant to discuss the subject.

"Probably right now he is the MVP of the league," said Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum, who watched Molina break a 1-1 tie with a two-run homer in the sixth inning of the Cardinals' 4-1 victory over the Cubs on Wednesday. "Each year he has just gotten better and better as a hitter. Each year you see some little adjustment he has made with his hand position, his backside, whatever. A lot of times that's what hitters need to do a lot of to get to another level."

Jake Westbrook (3-2) was the beneficiary of Molina's homer, his fifth of the season. Westbrook allowed just one unearned run on two hits in seven innings, with three walks and two strikeouts. He recorded 15 ground-ball outs.

Westbrook has not allowed an earned run in three starts and 22 innings at home this season.

Westbrook said Molina is the slam-dunk MVP in the NL.

"No question about that, with the way he's been hitting," Westbrook said. "But more importantly, the way he's handled us as a staff and the way we've been pitching. He, in my mind, is the reason for that. We go out there and he has a great game plan. He's helped us pitch a lot of good ballgames."

Molina's homer was his lone hit of the game in four at-bats.

"Sometimes you get lucky, I think, and that was lucky," said Molina, referring to a good inside delivery from Jackson.

Molina is batting .365 --18 points ahead of injured Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Molina said his high average is a result of years of experience.

"I've got many, many at-bats," Molina said. "I know myself better. I'm a contact guy. I don't try to hit home runs. I just try to hit gap to gap. When you're a hitter like me, you're going to make contact and sometimes you're going to find some holes."

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, a former catcher, said he can appreciate what Molina has accomplished with the bat, particularly when considering the defensive demands of the position.

"It's just impressive to watch the way he goes about it every day and every at-bat," Matheny said. "He kind of embodies the philosophy we'd like to have. He goes up with a very consistent approach. His execution in situations ... he's selfless when he needs to be. He just is able to come up with big hits at big times.

"And you always have to keep under consideration that the demands that come from that position are greater than anything else expected from the guys out on the field. Other position players would admit to that. The whole story is pretty impressive."

Molina was credited with an extra hit Wednesday following an official scoring change.

In the Cardinals' game against the New York Mets on June 11 at Citi Field, Molina's drive to right was initially ruled an error on Kirk Nieuwenhuis. But the play was reviewed and Molina was awarded a double.

Molina is batting .408 with runners in scoring position, .367 against right-handers and .354 against left-handers. And he does it all without the benefit of an abundance of infield hits.

"The position makes slow guys even slower. That's just the nature of it," Matheny said.

San Francisco's Buster Posey won the NL batting championship last season with a .336 average, becoming the first catcher to win the title since Ernie Lombardi in 1942 (.330) with the Boston Braves. Posey also was named the NL Most Valuable Player; Molina was fourth.

Sveum said there's no way to pitch Molina.

"Right now, you just hope he hits the ball at somebody," Sveum said. "He's so locked in that you really have to make a great pitch to get him out or make him have a bad swing. It's very hard to make adjustments to those kinds of hitters because he is hitting everything --inside, down, breaking balls. He's very difficult to pitch to."

Descalso starts

Third baseman David Freese was out of the lineup Wednesday, replaced by Daniel Descalso. Descalso was 1-for-4 and is batting .364 (28-for-77) with a .431 on-base percentage since April 30.

Freese had a forgettable game Tuesday night, grounding into three double plays and striking out.

"I looked back through at how many games in a row he's played," Matheny said. "We had a conversation (about it) last night. I never want these guys thinking, 'If I have a rough game, I'm going to sit on the bench the next day.' That's not it.

"It's waiting to watch when their bodies need something. After (Tuesday), I knew he was frustrated and I knew we had been riding him really hard. It would be a great day, also, to keep rewarding Danny. Every time he's been in there lately, he's been a difference-maker on the offensive side as well as what he's doing defensively."

Contact reporter David Wilhelm at dwilhelm@bnd.com or 239-2665. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidMWilhelm.

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