ST. LOUIS — Yadier Molina returned to St. Louis and the Cardinal lineup Friday for the series opener with Chicago.
Out since July 11 with a torn thumb ligament, the All Star catcher will be back behind the plate and hitting sixth for St. Louis.
“I feel good. 100 percent good. Every part of my body feels great,” Molina said on the field. “Right now I’m surprised, yeah, but I’m ready to go and I’m happy to be in the lineup.”
Originally projected to miss 8-12 weeks, the six-time Gold Glover returns to action seven weeks to the day of his surgery. General Manager John Mozeliak spoke in the dugout before the game and said though the recovery was impressive, it wasn’t out of the ordinary for Molina.
“I think with Yadi, nothing is surprising. He’s one of the toughest guys ever seen in the big leagues,” Mozeliak said. “I think getting to watch him play and just see how he looked in Springfield, it made you realize during his time away he got himself in really good shape.”
In two rehab starts for the Cardinals’ AA club, Molina went 5-for-6 with three doubles and a pair of RBIs. Though he has stated throughout his recovery that he feels healthy and energized, he seemed to impress himself with such a quick return to form at the plate.
“I was surprised. I saw the ball pretty good, so hopefully I take that approach over here,” he said.
The catcher said he will only need tape on his hand to feel comfortable in the field, forgoing the splint he wore during his rehab work in St. Louis. Though the ligament tear was an acute injury unlikely to be repeated, the club will still keep a close eye on Molina as he works back into regular playing time.
“We’re going in with a little bit of caution and holding our breath to some degree, but he feels like he can protect himself and allow himself to contribute,” Mozeliak said. “That being said, he really wants to be out there and we’re going to give him a chance.”
Matheny said his usual backstop is available for all nine innings Friday and with a double header Saturday, will get action in back-to-back nights. To make room for Molina, Tony Cruz was optioned to Springfield. Cruz will report and be used behind the plate for the AA club, eligible to return after their season ends on September 1. While the move to keep just two catchers would indicate the team’s confidence in Molina’s health, Matheny also pointed to Saturday’s two-game set as a reason to keep as many pitchers as possible.
“We need the arms, that’s all there is to it,” he said. “Especially going into a double header tomorrow, we’re going to need every arm we can get.”
Though his return means he’ll be one teammate short, Molina said returning to the Cardinals was something he was desperately looking forward to after watching so many contests on TV.
“I missed them a lot,” he said. “I couldn’t wait one more moment to be on the same field with them.”
One test he hadn’t faced was a runner trying to swipe a base on him in a live game. For a catcher with such a prolific arm, shutting down the running game is key to his contributions to the club. Matheny said his pitchers have worked to improve their holding of base runners, but if one does take off, Molina had a very clear message.
“I’ll be ready for it,” he said.