ST. LOUIS -- Deep down, Carson Kelly knew his next chance would likely either come in this fashion, or somewhere else. The No. 2 catching prospect in baseball and the Cardinals' No. 3 prospect, few blue chippers face as complicated a path to the big leagues as Kelly, whom many
ST. LOUIS -- Deep down, Carson Kelly knew his next chance would likely either come in this fashion, or somewhere else. The No. 2 catching prospect in baseball and the Cardinals' No. 3 prospect, few blue chippers face as complicated a path to the big leagues as Kelly, whom many believe would be a Major League starter nearly anywhere else.
But in St. Louis, Kelly is blocked by Yadier Molina, called "our unofficial captain" by president of baseball operations John Mozeliak compared to Hall of Famer Johnny Bench by manager Mike Matheny. As a catcher, Molina has few peers, and even fewer mean more to the fabric of their franchise.
Kelly's potential return to the Majors seemed entirely contingent on the team losing Molina, which it did Saturday. Molina is expected to miss at least four weeks after undergoing emergency surgery for a pelvic injury with traumatic hematoma. Kelly will be given ample opportunity to handle a bulk of the catching duties in his absence.
"I understand the reality of it; you can't block that out," Kelly said. "Prayers for Yadi. That's something very scary. You never want to see that happen to someone. But that's the position I'm in, and I'm ready to step up and take that role."
Francisco Pena started behind the plate Sunday against the Cubs, and he'll see more playing time in the coming weeks than he did as Molina's backup. But most of the starts will go to Kelly, whom many expected to break camp with the Cardinals after he finished 2017 with 34 games in St. Louis. The club pivoted on the last week of camp, preferring Kelly to play every day at Triple-A Memphis.
Kelly hit .234/.337/.364 in his first 21 games there, on defense guiding one of the Pacific Coast League's top pitching staffs. He hit .174/.240/.217 in 75 Major League plate appearances last summer.
"You spend half a season in the big leagues then get sent down to the Minor Leagues, there is always that disappointment or frustration," Mozeliak said. "But in fairness, you still have a job to do. Now he gets a unique opportunity, and we'll see what he does with it."
Kelly will face "multiple challenges," in his new assignment, Matheny said. Some are inherent in the task given to any young catcher, who must learn a new league on the go, in intimate detail, on both sides of the ball. Another is more specific to who Kelly is replacing. Matheny said Molina possesses "the best baseball IQ of anybody I've ever seen."
"I have to be Carson Kelly. I can't try to be Yadier Molina," Kelly said. "Once I got down to Memphis, I focused on taking every single day and taking every situation for how it is, and making the best of every situation, every at-bat. That way, when an opportunity like this presents itself, I'll be ready."
Pham being cautious
Tommy Pham wasn't in the lineup on Sunday after leaving Saturday's 8-6 win early due to a reoccurring case of right groin tightness. He pinch-hit in the sixth inning, grounding into a fielder's choice and running gingerly to first. Pham underwent an MRI exam on Sunday, which he said revealed slight irritation in his hip abductor.
Pham was available off the bench Sunday and said he'd try to play Monday, but acknowledged the possibility of missing at least a couple of games as a precaution. The center fielder missed three games last month to the same injury.
"It's not severe, but it's enough where I can't run 100 percent," Pham said. "I need to run 100 percent to play this game."
Norris down for a few days
Bud Norris and Matheny conferenced Sunday in an attempt to outline the best way to manage his workload. Afterward, Norris told reporters he'd prefer to rest for a few days after triceps tightness caused him to exit Saturday's win. Norris said Saturday he didn't expect the injury to require a stint on the disabled list.
The Cardinals' most reliable reliever in the early going, Norris appeared in 17 of the club's first 31 games.
"You never like walking a guy off the field," Matheny said. "We had that heart to heart today. Those conversations [about workload] are a lot easier to have on the front side than on the back. We look at the workload they've had, and we don't want them to hurt themselves, but we do need honest feedback."
Matheny didn't say who would assume closing duties in Norris' absence, but he did say, "You know I like the guys who have done it before." As it pertains to the Cardinals' current crop of relievers, that qualifies Greg Holland and Luke Gregerson.
Cecil nearing rehab
Brett Cecil was back with the team Sunday after spending much of the past few weeks at its Minor League complex in Jupiter, Fla. Sidelined with a shoulder strain since the season's first week, Cecil is nearing an official rehab assignment, either at Double-A Springfield or Memphis.
Cubs comment on Yadi
Two rival catchers offered their reactions to Molina's injury. Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said: "It [stinks] what happened to him. It could've been me or another catcher. That's the worst feeling ever, that's the worst pain a catcher can get. I just feel for him. I feel sorry for him. He's a great player. He's the life and soul for that team."
Cubs manager Joe Maddon, a former catcher himself, said: "It was painful to watch. Being a catcher, you know what that's like. If he can't get going relatively soon, it's probably a little more [serious]. I wish him well."
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.