Another Cardinal has been bitten by the injury bug -- and this time it’s their most dependable.
Catcher Yadier Molina departed Saturday’s 5-2 loss against the Reds at Busch Stadium in the bottom of the fourth inning with a bone contusion in his left knee -- a half-frame after he took a foul tip off an area of his protective equipment in an at-bat. The 38-year-old is considered day to day, said manager Mike Shildt, and was kept out of Sunday’s starting lineup with the hopes he can return after Monday’s off-day.
In departing Saturday, Molina became the eighth Cardinal to sustain an injury amid this stretch of 17 games without an off-day built in. The other seven have landed on the injured list, including:
• Three of their top starting pitchers (Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas and Kwang Hyun Kim)
• One starting outfielder (Harrison Bader)
• One part-time outfielder (Justin Williams) and one bench player (Max Moroff)
• One bullpen arm (Kodi Whitley)
The latest bruise came amid the Cardinals’ fourth consecutive loss, including their sixth in their past seven games.
“Collectively, we knew it was gonna be tough, it wasn't going to be easy,” said third baseman Nolan Arenado, who went 3-for-4 with both RBIs after entering Saturday’s loss 9-for-59 (.153 average) in his last 15 games. “We still believe in what we're doing and still believe we can come out on top. But it's been tough, for sure, lately. That’s part of it. Every team goes through it; we're going through it right now. But I know that greater times are ahead.”
It didn’t matter that the Cards had a threat brewing in the ninth inning for the third consecutive game that they did not capitalize on. St. Louis has scored five runs in a loss only twice this season and is averaging 2.5 in its 10 losses amid this current stretch.
“The guys are grinding. The guys are giving you their best bolt, man, and I have a lot of respect for that clubhouse,” Shildt said. “Their heart's in it, they're getting after it, they're laying out in defensive [plays] -- [Tommy Edman] makes a diving play. Guys are laying out, guys are getting down the line, guys are busting it the best they can and doing everything they can and throwing their heart out in the field. It's not going our way at the moment, but it'll turn.”
As for Molina, a 2-2 slider from Cards starter Johan Oviedo was nicked by Reds shortstop Kyle Farmer square off his left kneecap, an area where his shin guard provides little protection. Molina took a second to get to his feet and limped around, but he remained in the game to help Oviedo escape the bases-loaded jam.
Molina was then replaced by Andrew Knizner in the offensive half of the inning, who got the starting nod for Sunday’s series finale so Molina can take full advantage of Monday’s off-day, in the hopes of avoiding a stint on the injured list. The Cards remain optimistic he could avoid the IL. A similar circumstance occurred at the end of April, when Molina took a few games to collect himself before making a one-game re-appearance and missing 11 contests with a tendon strain in his right foot. Knizner filled in admirably then but has seen his production at the plate teeter with irregular playing time.
And for the Cardinals, Molina’s ailment came on a day when they placed their third starting pitcher on the IL in the span of two weeks, as well as one of their outfielders. All told, 10 players are on the Cardinals’ Major League injured list, with three more 40-man roster players on the 7-day IL in the Minors.
So by the time right-hander Daniel Ponce de Leon was paid a visit by trainers on the mound in the top of the ninth inning, ultimately staying in the game, it was an all too familiar walk the Cardinals have made from the dugout in recent weeks.
“We got a day off Monday,” Arenado said. “I think that’ll be great for all of us.”