(BaseballStL) — As the Cardinals scrape for every inch in the National League Central race, a key piece of the club drew closer to being able to help Thursday.
Yadier Molina, five weeks removed from surgery on his right thumb, played catch and even took things a step further before the opener with the Padres at Busch Stadium.
“He actually caught a bullpen today,” Mike Matheny said. “He had his brace on and was able to throw the ball back and it sounds like he’s as expected. We’re pushing this as fast as the medical team will allow.”
Molina went under the knife On July 11 to repair a torn ligament in his throwing hand, suffered on a slide into third base against the Pirates on July 9. He didn’t speak to reporters, but Matheny talked extensively about his All Star catcher, saying the six-time Gold Glover has used the down time to improve his physical conditioning.
“He’s in terrific shape. He’s been really getting after it in the weight room and staying really physically fit,” he said.
Molina has split time between Florida and St. Louis, working hard to be in peak shape as he moves through the steps of rehab.
“He looks lighter than he did in spring training as far as overall conditioning. He looks great,” Matheny added.
The Cardinal backstop was wearing a black brace that covered his thumb, but left most of his hand free. He came through the tunnel to the clubhouse about 15 minutes before the pre game media scrum and appeared to be in good spirits.
Still, his recovery is far from complete. Despite the uplifting news that Molina caught a bullpen, Matheny refrained from discussing a return date for the 32-year-old.
“He did have basically a miniature version of a cast on, so you could most take a jai alai scoop and toss it back to the pitcher,” the skipper said. “He hasn’t picked up the bat, hasn’t gripped the ball without a brace so we can’t get too far ahead.”
Molina has been aggressive in his recovery, something the organization hopes will lead to a return date sooner than the initial 12 week projection. Rebounding from a major surgery, especially one on something as complicated as a hand injury, takes time but the recipe is there to give Molina a chance to return before the season ends.
“It comes down to the aggressiveness of the surgeon and the aggressiveness of the patient, and we knew one of those two was going to be taken care of,” Matheny said. ”I see every day the doctors challenge him and allow him to go further as a positive step.”
Swinging a bat will likely be the last hurdle the catcher will need to clear before returning to action. Right now he will continue to regain a feel behind the plate, then move to throwing without the brace before picking up his stick.
Wacha playing long toss
Michael Wacha’s march toward active duty continues gain ground, as the young phenom is progressing in his rehab without setbacks.
Currently, he’s playing catch from about 120-150 feet and hasn’t felt any discomfort. Thursday he appeared to be throwing normally, and the club says they will continue to up the intensity of his throwing sessions.
“Michael is still just playing catch, increasing the intensity a little bit,” Matheny said. “It seems to be going well, he says he feels good throwing.”