Cruz gets break from rest to fill in for Molina
MILWAUKEE -- With the Cardinals four games into a stretch of 20 in 20 days and Yadier Molina having started each of the team's first 12, manager Mike Matheny, with input from his veteran catcher, earmarked Monday as a prescribed off-day for Molina.
In pulling Molina, 2-for-12 in his career against Monday starter Matt Garza, Matheny also offered Tony Cruz an opportunity to get involved. Cruz's role -- to back up the catcher with the most starts since 2005 -- is largely a thankless one. The Cardinals, in essence, hope he sees minimal time on the field, as that's an indication of Molina's status.
Sure enough, Cruz has been mostly absent this season. He caught two innings in the team's first 12 games, both times entering late in games that were not close. His most recent official at-bat came March 27, in Spring Training, though Cruz did walk in a plate appearance on April 4.
"You definitely want to be able to get in there and play and contribute to the team, but I understand, he's a workhorse, and that's the way he goes about his business," Cruz said. "He's the best catcher in baseball. I just take it as it comes. It's exciting, the first start of the season."
Cruz says he often takes extra swings in the batting cage in an attempt to stay sharp, but he acknowledges that "there's nothing you can really do to simulate the timing of live pitching."
Aware that his offensive game suffers from the lack of consistent at-bats, Cruz focuses primarily on his defensive readiness and his rapport with the pitching staff. He sits through all the pitching meetings and often calls games in his head while watching Molina do so on the field.
"My priority is working with my pitcher and trying to get him through as many innings as possible," Cruz said. "Having him be successful out there overtakes the offensive side. I take pride in the offense, too, but the defensive side is weighted more."
Last season, the Cardinals went 14-14 in games Cruz started.
"[There's] a lot of extra work, maybe more so than anyone else on the field," Matheny said, speaking of the backup catcher position. "Tony does a terrific job of that. He's constantly in conversation with Yadi. It's nice that they're as close friends as they are to where there is no lapse in preparation. They do the exact same thing. Tony has a real good idea what Yadi is thinking going into a game. Now, Yadi's instincts out there make him pretty different. Tony is getting there. It's amazing how quickly he's taking on some of those attributes of Yadi's."