LOS ANGELES -- It was only three months ago that the Cardinals opened Spring Training still uncertain of whether Yadier Molina would be ready by season's start. His thumb was still recovering from two offseason surgeries, and he was still several checkpoints away from being cleared to swing.Those concerns seem
LOS ANGELES -- It was only three months ago that the Cardinals opened Spring Training still uncertain of whether Yadier Molina would be ready by season's start. His thumb was still recovering from two offseason surgeries, and he was still several checkpoints away from being cleared to swing.
Those concerns seem so distant now that manager Mike Matheny, after the Cardinals' 5-2 win over the Dodgers on Sunday night, acknowledged that he actually "forgot about that." Credit Molina with causing the short-term memory glitch.
Almost a quarter of the way through the season, Molina looks like he's on his way to his best offensive season since 2013, when he finished third in the voting for National League Most Valuable Player. That year, he hit a career-best 44 doubles. With his 12th on Sunday, he's on pace this year for 51. His .333 batting average ranks seventh in the NL, and he's driven in 16.
The quick recovery has surprised even Molina, who admitted that he, too, assumed he was going to enter the season compromised after needing surgeries on his thumb in October and December.
"I didn't expect it to be this good," Molina said. "I expected to be more cautious. But as soon as the games started, I felt good. I'm glad that happened."
Molina felt so good, in fact, coming out of camp that the Cardinals haven't hesitated to keep putting him in the lineup. He has started 34 of the team's 38 games and still managed to impact Sunday's contest on a day he was prescheduled to have off.
With the game even at 1, Matheny made his move. He sent out Brandon Moss to pinch-hit, a decision then countered by Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who opted to have right-hander Joe Blanton put Moss on base. That brought the inning to the ninth spot in the lineup, where Molina was waiting.
Molina, 7-for-23 against Blanton in his career, took a curveball and then turned on a cutter, lining it into the left-field corner for a two-run double. It was Molina's first extra-base hit in 28 career pinch-hit at-bats.
"He was ready," Matheny said. "When that time came, he knew it was going to be a big moment. He's a guy who seems to make the most of those."
Though Molina has yet to hit a home run this season, the improved strength in his hand has been obvious in the way he's driving balls again. Through this same point in the 2015 season, Molina had only eight extra-base hits. At that time, he was battling through strength issues with his right thumb, which had been surgically repaired that previous offseason.
He finished with 23 doubles, a total he's more than halfway to already in 2016.
"I don't know what happened last year," Molina said. "But this year I feel obviously better than last year. I think I've gotten my strength back, and hopefully it stays that way."
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast.