Molina debuts with no issues, despite bout of deja vu -

Molina debuts with no issues, despite bout of deja vu

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JUPITER, Fl. ( -- Yadier Molina’s twice-surgically-repaired thumb got a full-speed test Wednesday, as the Cardinals star caught three innings against the Marlins.

Given that his thumb is not yet strong enough to comfortably withstand swinging against live pitching, questions lingered pre-game about whether Molina would have any limitations. Mike Matheny put those concerns to rest quickly, saying if that were case, they wouldn’t risk their Gold Glover so early in spring.

“We need him to go play the game and if he’s tentative, we wouldn’t have him out there,” he said. “He just needs to do what he does and not be concerned.”

That mentality was put to the test in the second inning, when Molina faced a play at the plate nearly identical to the one that tore apart his left thumb on September 20.

In that play, with the game on the line at Wrigley Field, Jason Heyward fired a strike to home and Molina laid a swipe tag on a sliding Anthony Rizzo. The big Cubs first baseman’s spikes caught the glove, and Molina’s UCL was torn.  

Wednesday, with Justin Bour on second and one out, Miami’s Cole Gillespie sent a single up the middle.

Bour, an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than Rizzo, took off from second at full speed. He steamed around third as Randal Grichuk gloved the ball in center field, setting the stage for a race to home with Molina’s splint-supported left hand waiting at the finish line.

“I was ready. I wasn’t thinking about anything,” Molina said, insisting the memory of his injury was absent in the moment. “I just tried to get the guy out and everything went right.”

The throw came in, the glove was swiped, and Molina’s fist pumped vigorously, echoing the umpire’s call.

Most important, the Cardinal catcher got back behind the plate for the next hitter, going back to work with no ill effects. He caught three innings Wednesday, never having to go to the plate. Matheny batted his catcher ninth in the hopes of avoiding sending him up to hit. While Molina’s thumb (with the aid of his splint) is ready to receive full-speed pitches, it is not yet strong enough to hit them.

In the bottom of the second he was in the on deck circle, and had he gone to the plate he would have simply taken pitches. But Jedd Gyorko was thrown out stealing to end the inning, and Molina never stepped into the box.

Despite a day without offensive work, the 12-year veteran was clearly happy to be back on the field. For much of spring he has remained sidelined, marrying light drills in the afternoon with intense rehab work in the morning. Wednesday, he was just another player in uniform.

“It was fun to be out there with the team and try to help them to win,” he said at his locker. “I keep improving every day. Today was a good test and I feel good. But we have to wait until tomorrow and see how I feel when I wake up. I keep progressing, so hopefully we stay in line with that.”

The next hurdle to clear is full batting practice, but Molina remains patient on that front. There are still 22 days left in March, and given the ground already claimed, there is no reason to put himself at risk.

“You want to go slowly. You don’t want to rush. Right now we’re taking a couple swings and everything is fine, so we want to progress a little every day,” he said. “Last year was different. You want to rush last year because you have no time. Right now you have time.”

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