Molina back in the lineup after knee problem; Wigginton given his release

News-DemocratJuly 9, 2013 

— Yadier Molina returned to action Tuesday after missing two consecutive games with right-knee inflammation.

Still, the St. Louis Cardinals added support at the position earlier in the day when they purchased the contract of 30-year-old Rob Johnson from Class AAA Memphis, where he was batting .236 with seven home runs and 32 RBIs in 59 games.

Johnson essentially will serve as the backup to second-string catcher Tony Cruz. To make room for Johnson, the Cardinals gave Ty Wigginton, 35, his unconditional release.

Wigginton, who was signed to a two-year, $5 million contract in December, batted .158 (9-for-57) with no homers and three RBIs in 47 games. He struck out 19 times.

"It comes down to production," Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak said of Wigginton. "He kept trying to find a way to make it work. Unfortunately, he never got a lot of opportunities."

Mozeliak said the roots for cutting loose Wigginton were planted way back in spring training when first baseman Matt Adams showed the Cardinals that he could be a force off the bench.

Indeed, that has been the case. Adams, 24, began Tuesday batting .319 with nine doubles, seven homers and 24 RBIs in 49 games.

"As we broke into the season, Matt Adams definitely came out and identified himself as someone that we were going to have to get at-bats for," Mozeliak said. "Subsequently, Ty was sort of (the) low man on the totem pole and never really got a chance to get going."

The Cardinals gave Wigginton the opportunity to play at Memphis, but Mozeliak said the veteran opted to become a free agent and hopes to find employment with another team. Wigginton still is owed about $3.6 million.

"It wasn't an easy decision," Mozeliak said. "Any time you view somebody who you give a multiyear contract to and to really only get a quarter of the way through it is unfortunate. But this team is out here to perform. It's about winning, and we had to put our best 25 (players) out there."

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said it was "extremely" difficult to tell Wigginton that he didn't fit into the team's plans.

"I talked to him (Monday) and talked to him again today," Matheny said. "I just wanted to make sure he had all the information. He had some decisions to make --he and his family. I just needed to make sure he didn't had any questions or ever doubt that we absolutely appreciated what he was able to do for us as a team."

Matheny said Wigginton's worth went beyond his statistics, which obviously didn't approach what the Cardinals expected.

"I know what happens in our clubhouse," Matheny said. "It happens because you have the right kind of people that are making impacts on the other people. Ty made a positive impact."

The Cardinals are satisfied that Molina's knee issue won't be ongoing, citing the negative results of an MRI on Saturday.

But the master plan always has been to give the All-Star catcher a break whenever necessary. And with the temperature soaring into the mid-90s Tuesday, Matheny and Mozeliak seemed determined to maintain Molina's strength and effectiveness.

"It's something we'll try to stay on top of," Matheny said. "There are days we're going to try to give him and some rest and when he feels good, we're going to use him. When it gets hot, we're going to be very careful. That was going to happen regardless of whether his knee started bothering him or not."

Johnson's stay at the big-league level could be brief. Typically, the Cardinals have not favored carrying three catchers.

"Time will tell," Mozeliak said. "It's hard to imagine carrying three catchers for an extended period of time, but we're going to give Mr. Johnson an opportunity to see what he can do. Hopefully, he can fit in to some degree.

"He earned a shot up here with what he was doing down in Memphis. He was a great mentor to a lot of those young pitchers down there. It's nice that he can get rewarded."

Matheny also took notice of Johnson's ability.

"He knows the ins and outs of the position and takes a lot of pride in how he works and that relationship with the pitcher," Matheny said. "I also think, offensively, he's capable of doing a lot more. Defensively, he's a good catch-and-throw guy."

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

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