Yadier Molina’s injured left thumb has made enough progress to allow him to play in the St. Louis Cardinals’ best-of-five National League Division Series against the Chicago Cubs.
Molina will start behind the plate in Game 1 at 5:45 p.m. Friday at Busch Stadium. He was officially put on the roster Thursday after the team worked out for 90 minutes.
“It’s feeling good,” Molina said. “I took some BP the last two days and it’s responded well, so I’m ready to go.”
Molina will wear a molded plastic splint on his thumb while he catches; he has another protective device to use while he is hitting.
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“Catching is going to be the hardest part, but hitting is feeling good,” said Molina, who handled Michael Wacha’s bullpen outing Wednesday. “Catching some of the pitches, I had trouble with. But overall, it feels great. It’s not pain. It’s about weakness. My hand is not strong enough to hold the ball like I used to when I was healthy.”
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said Molina has fooled himself into believing the pain doesn’t exist.
“I think he feels pain,” Matheny said. “He just doesn’t recognize it or knows how to define it. That’s part of the (catcher) position. That’s part of this time of the season, too.”
Neither Matheny nor Molina would put a percentage on Molina’s health.
“He looks good to me and he’s swinging the bat well,” Matheny said. “I don’t have a percentage for you except he looks good.
“If anything changes, we’re going to have to change course at that point. He’s a smart guy, too. He doesn’t want to go out there if he’s not able to contribute. If he’s not able to compete and do what he needs to do, he knows that would hurt our club. (But) right now, that’s not the situation, and we’re very fortunate.”
Molina injured the thumb Sept. 20 at Wrigley Field in Chicago when he tagged out a sliding Anthony Rizzo at home plate. He missed the remainder of the regular season.
The thumb has not healed all the way, but the Cardinals are satisfied that there will be no great risk to Molina if he plays.
“It was difficult (to come back),” Molina said. “Obviously, it was a serious injury. The trainers, the doctors did a great job. Yeah, some pain’s going to be there, but hopefully with the things I’m going to wear for pain ... I tried them the last two days and they feel good. I’m ready to go.”
Matheny’s difficult task of finalizing the Cardinals roster resulted in several familiar faces not being in the postseason mix.
Outfielder Peter Bourjos, first baseman Matt Adams, infielder Peter Kozma and pitchers Steve Cishek, Randy Choate and Matt Belisle were left off the 25-man roster.
Outfielders Tommy Pham and Jon Jay, infielder Greg Garcia and pitchers Carlos Villanueva and Tyler Lyons made the cut, as did outfielder/infielders Brandon Moss and Mark Reynolds.
“We could sit here for a long time talking about the decisions made on this roster,” Matheny said. “It wasn’t a lot of fun. People say that’s a good problem to have, and I say problems are problems. It’s been tough to go sit and talk with some guys who have made serious contributions to this club and not allow them to be part of this playoff roster.”
Pham’s ability to play center as a backup to Jason Heyward was a reason the rookie was retained on the roster. Matheny also likes his bat; Pham hit .268 with five homers and 18 RBIs.
“His ability to come off the bench and run, the defense that he brings and the ability to play center field at times (was important),” Matheny said. “And then the bat. The bat plays into it. The offense that he was able to produce in the short time that he was here (was impressive). So all those go into the plus column for him. We believe he gives us an edge.”
Matheny also announced his rotation for the remainder of the series.
Following John Lackey in Game 1 on Friday, Jaime Garcia will pitch Game 2 on Saturday, followed by Michael Wacha in Game 3 on Monday and Lance Lynn in Game 4 on Tuesday, if necessary.
Wacha and Lynn both have struggled against the Cubs. Wacha is 1-2 with a 6.86 ERA in four starts, while Lynn is 0-3 with a 7.64 ERA in four starts.
The Cubs will pitch Kyle Hendricks on Saturday, Jake Arrieta on Monday and most likely Jason Hammel on Tuesday.
Start times for remaining NL Division Series games were announced Thursday.
If there are four games Monday, the Cardinals and Cubs will begin Game 3 at 5:07 p.m. at Wrigley Field. If just two or three games are played Monday, the start time will be 3:37 p.m.
Game 4, if necessary, will be at 3:37 p.m. Tuesday at Wrigley Field if the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers series hasn’t concluded. If it has, the Cubs and Cardinals will meet in prime time at 7:07 p.m.
Game 5 in St. Louis, if necessary, will be at 3:37 p.m. Thursday unless the Mets-Dodgers series is over. In that case, it would begin at 7:07 p.m.
Adam Wainwright will be ready to throw on consecutive days and could be used for multiple innings after returning from a torn left Achilles’ tendon injury the last week of the season.
“It’s a good feeling to be back in the playoffs. It always is,” said Wainwright, the usual starter who because of his injury will be a reliever for the first time since 2006. “You just never know when your last time to pitch in the playoffs is going to be.
“And playing against the Cubs is going to be a wild ride. These fans are going to be ready for some good games, on both sides, and I think they’re going to get them.”
Matheny anticipates using Wainwright in late-inning spots.
“He looks good,” Matheny said. “We’re going to give him opportunities, too, in big situations to show that he can go out there and do it.”