ST. LOUIS — As is often the case after a loss — and also common in the last game of a homestand — the Cardinals clubhouse was pretty sparse Wednesday night.
The hushed nature was hardly unusual given the box score. Reporters quietly gathered around the locker of the game’s starting pitcher, Jack Flaherty, who had just made his first start of the season. Club attendants packed up, players walked in and out, and the coaching staff finished their match meetings without much exuberance. But throughout the silent shuffling of the post-match routine, one player never moved.
Still dressed in his full uniform, Yadier Molina sat with his chair facing his locker, his back to the room, his face blank, his body language revealing. He had gone 0-for-4 on the night with two strikeouts and made a rare first-pitch error on a bunt play that led to an unearned run on Flaherty’s line. But his reaction wasn’t based on a disappointing night.
It turns out that even the greatest in the game have moments of vulnerability.
The Cardinals are preparing to be without their 10-time All-Star receiver for at least a few weeks and will place Molina on the 10-day injured list on Friday as the 39-year-old tries to recover from knee pain which made him sick. most of the 2022 season, Athleticism has learned.
Top catch prospect Ivan Herrera will be recalled from Triple-A Memphis as a matching move and join the team in Boston for a three-game weekend against the Red Sox. Reserve receiver Andrew Knizner, who has already seen his playing time increase lately, will receive the bulk of the starts, but the Cardinals are intrigued by what Herrera can offer. The 22-year-old has long been seen as the organization’s receiver of the future.
There is no definitive timetable for Molina’s return. He received several cortisone injections last weekend and the team wanted to keep him out for 48 hours, although he pressed for him to return immediately. Molina was officially shut out on Tuesday, when he caught the opener of the Cardinals’ doubleheader against the Pirates, and he did it again Wednesday night. There was measured optimism that after a scheduled day off Thursday, Molina would feel strong enough to catch Adam Wainwright, who is due to start Friday at Fenway Park. The esteemed duo ticked another box in the record books on their last start together – the 316th of their careers – when they tied Warren Spahn and Del Crandall for the second-most starts as teammates in the league. history of MLB.
Molina and Wainwright are nine starts away from passing the Detroit duo of Mickey Lolich and Bill Freehan (324) for the most all-time. For now, the continuation of this precious record will have to wait.
These cards are fully inserted.
With 2⃣0⃣3⃣ wins, Waino & Yadi have the most wins as a starting battery in MLB history. pic.twitter.com/UzVVpHgaE1
—MLB (@MLB) May 16, 2022
When Molina signed a one-year, $10 million contract extension in August 2021, he made it known that the 2022 season would be the last of his 19-year decorated career. But this year has been far from the kind of success that has become synonymous with Molina. He was late to show up for an already short spring training due to personal issues and tried to get in shape during the season. He’s battled constant pain since March, which would explain his low offensive numbers; he’s just hitting .213 with two home runs, and his OPS is down to .519.
Considered one of the most competitive forces in baseball in any era, Molina pushed himself to his limits until there was no other choice. The Cardinals are hoping some rest and recovery will ease some of his pain, which would obviously make the conditioning process to get back to the big leagues much more bearable.
Now the Cardinals must find a solution behind the plate. Knizner has been praised in recent seasons for his work ethic and preparation, but he’s been exposed offensively lately, struggling with recognition from the pitch. Opposing pitchers took notice, with Knizner posting a .198/.283/.257 line in 36 games (30 starts). It’s by far the most consistent playing time the 27-year-old has received at major league level, but the production needs to be significantly better, and manager Oli Marmol said so on Sunday.
“We need to start seeing better Kiz drummers,” Marmol said. “He’s working on it, but at some point there has to be a change.”
Marmol elaborated on the subject on Monday afternoon.
“When you save Yadi in previous years, it’s tough,” he said. “Now that (Knizner) is actually there three times a week, four times a week, the expectations are no longer ‘trying to find my timing’. You get a real opportunity, so the expectations are different. He knows it. Now all he has to do is go.”
Knizner acknowledged this, saying he may have become too preoccupied trying to rearrange his swing to get the ball off the ground more.
“When you go too far in one way to solve a problem, maybe something else happens,” he said. “It’s that constant swing that you have to do, especially hitting. Your body is an inch forward, that’s a problem, your body is an inch back, that’s another problem. I try to find that sweet spot and adjust pitch to pitch, swing to swing.
Knizner has been working on posture and separation this week and improving his timing and pitch recognition. How he responds to those challenges will come under scrutiny now that he’s been spending a lot of time behind the plate.
Herrera, who made his majors debut earlier in May when Molina was on the mourners list, has .824 OPS in 110 at-bats for Memphis. Ranked No.4 under Keith Law in the Cardinals’ system, Herrera has also been praised for his determination to improve, although there are residual concerns over whether he’s ready for consistent time in the big leagues. leagues. Either way, the Cardinals don’t seem to have much choice as the club once again relies on the depth of their farming system.
The Cardinals always knew missing time was a possibility for Molina this season. He turns 40 next month and has spent the better part of two decades in the sport’s most demanding positions. Now the team will hold its breath and hope that one of its most eminent leaders and dedicated minds won’t miss too much time.
(Photo: Aaron Doster/Associated Press)
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