St. Louis Cardinals

Molina makes another start behind plate; hitting remains All-Star’s biggest hurdle

Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny talks about Yadi's thumb, Opening Day

St. Louis Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny said he hopes the progress of catcher Yadier Molina's injured thumb continues and will allow him to play on opening day April 3 in Pittsburgh.
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St. Louis Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny said he hopes the progress of catcher Yadier Molina's injured thumb continues and will allow him to play on opening day April 3 in Pittsburgh.

Yadier Molina is playing games in spring training with designs on possibly being ready for Opening Day.

The St. Louis Cardinals’ All-Star catcher, recovering from two offseason surgeries on the torn ligament in his left thumb, played five innings Friday in a 4-3 win over Atlanta. He also started Wednesday against Miami, playing three innings.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said before the game Friday that he didn’t yet know whether Molina would bat. Molina indeed batted once, but he was told not to swing and struck out looking in the third agaisnt Jhoulys Chacin.

“Him getting in there and catching is a priority for us right now,” Matheny said. “We’ll see how the at-bats play out.”

Molina hit off a machine Friday, and Matheny said the Cardinals received “positive reports.”

“It felt good to be back in the cage and start swinging,” Molina said. “Everything went good. Everything is progressing. My strength is not 100 percent right now. It’s going to need time to get back. It’s tight. The whole thumb is tight. You have to do the rehab and use ice, massage, laser (treatment).”

Matheny isn’t sure when Molina will be able to swing the bat in game situations. Molina hopes it will be sometime next week.

“I want to be in the game,” Molina said. “Hopefully, next week, 10 days. I don’t know.”

Could Molina, 33, be ready for the season opener April 3 at Pittsburgh?

“That was kind of the intention out of the game, but we’re always very in tune to the fact that anything could slow that down,” Matheny said. “He’s done a great job of controlling what he can control, and the medical team’s done a nice job of staying on top of it.”

Determining the majority of Molina’s course, said Matheny, is the medical team.

“The medical team is the driver right now, without question,” Matheny said. “After that, we take Yadi’s suggestions. If we have any kind of flexibility, we always involve him in the decision. But right now, this is in the medical team’s hands. They’ve got a game plan and we’re going to stick to it.”

Matheny said hitting is a strength issue. Without a grip, it’s an impossible task.

“You don’t need necessarily a great amount of strength to receive the ball,” Matheny said. “You need protection, which he has with the splint. He needs to have a certain level of strength for the doctors to feel good to have him do what he’s already done and where he’s going.

“But from here on forward, it’s about making sure there’s enough strength in the swing to where he’s got a chance to do what he needs to do and not want to push it. We’re getting real close on just strength levels. Now it’s getting himself into swinging shape.”

The Cardinals are nowhere near being ready to expressing optimism about Molina being ready for the opener.

“I’m not putting those (ideas) up,” Matheny said. “Even if I had them internally, I probably wouldn’t tell you guys because I know they would be miscommunicated to (Molina). I just want to stay the course. Whatever the medical team gives us to go forward, we’re going to take it and know that they’re being very aggressive in how they’re trying to get him back.”

Matheny said the Cardinals could only damage Molina’s progress by making public statements about their desire, or expectations, to have him ready April 3.

“All the wishing in the world that we do from our end isn’t going to help things. It could only hurt,” Matheny said. “If we say something like, ‘He’s going to be back by this date,’ that eventually is going to get to him and is going to influence the way he goes about his business. That’s not fair. He just need to go do what he does.”

David Wilhelm: 618-239-2665, @DavidMWilhelm