Notes: Molina coming into his own

Notes: Molina coming into his own

ST. LOUIS -- If there is one batter who illustrates how dangerous the St. Louis Cardinals lineup is and continues to become, it is Yadier Molina.

Molina is the No. 8 hitter in the Cardinals lineup, but has gone 11-for-27 (.407) in his last seven starts and has seven RBIs in his last four games.

"He looked to me a lot like he did in the beginning of the season, as far as making contact; he's just getting hits now," manager Tony La Russa said.

But it's not only the fact that Molina is getting hits that impresses; it's when he is getting hits. Molina's delivered timely knocks that just might indicate the 22-year-old is finally ready to deliver on the potential the organization has long seen in him.

The clutch hitting began with his game-winning single in the 12th inning against Pittsburgh on May 24. Molina hit a chopper between third base and shortstop that scored Reggie Sanders for the winning run.

It continued the following day, also against Pittsburgh. Molina turned in a career night, going 4-for-4 with four RBIs. His two-run single in the fourth inning against Mark Redman gave the Cards a 5-0 lead and seemed to deflate the Pirates.

On Saturday evening, Molina hit a two-run homer in the second inning that plated what would prove to be the game-winning runs.

"I'm just feeling more and more comfortable out there," Molina said.

Molina is hitting .333 in his last 10 games and is batting .254 on the season.

"He's a tough hitter," La Russa said. "That was a huge home run [on Saturday]. He's got a hitter's mentality. That's the way he hit in the Minor Leagues, and he is a tough out."

Walker update: Larry Walker left Saturday's game because of a slight ankle sprain. The right fielder caught his spike on the wooden dugout steps as he ran off the field in the fourth and was unable to return to game action. Barry Weinberg, the Cardinals' head athletic trainer, said that Walker has never had an ankle problem before.

Walker made a pinch-hit appearance in the ninth inning on Sunday, flying out to right fielder Jose Guillen. Walker will travel with the team and may well be back in the lineup on Monday. It will be a game-time decision.

After Sunday's game, Walker said the Cardinals plan to put him through some drills in Colorado to see how the ankle holds up when he tries to move laterally, and then they will decide.

Eldred nearing return: Cal Eldred pitched off the mound for the third time since going on the disabled list on April 10 with a respiratory virus.

It was the second time Eldred has faced batters. He threw 28 pitches as Roger Cedeno and Scott Seabol rotated at-bats against him.

Eldred said he felt his location was off compared to the first time he threw to batters. He expects to throw one more simulated game in Double-A Springfield this week, while the Cardinals are on the road. After that, he will likely start a rehabilitation assignment there, pitching in games, but as of game time Sunday, the team had not made an official decision.

"It just feels like I need more reps to get sharper," Eldred said.

Eldred was able to keep the ball low, but struggled with his command from time to time, though he did come through with several brilliant pitches. He struck out Seabol twice, once looking. He also jammed him on one pitch, forcing him to hit a weak chopper. Cedeno got wood on Eldred's pitches each time, but two of his three hits would have been easy infield outs. One hit shot through the hole between shortstop and second base and likely would have been a base hit.

After Eldred finished, he talked with pitching coach Dave Duncan about what he needed to be sharper.

"The only time you are off really at all is when your front side opens up too soon," Eldred said. "He sees that, and knows that's why I wasn't as sharp. Sometimes you want to get that pitch there so bad that you open up too soon."

Defense still winning games: Along with a great pitching performance from Jeff Suppan, the Cardinals benefited from several great defensive plays on Saturday.

The play that most impressed La Russa was the double play turned by second baseman Mark Grudzielanek in the sixth inning to get the Cards out of a critical inning. With the bases loaded, Vinny Castilla hit a grounder to shortstop David Eckstein, who flipped to Grudzielanek. La Russa said the base runner, Nick Johnson, was "all over" Grudzielanek.

"If they don't turn that, they score and are still hitting," La Russa said.

Left fielder Reggie Sanders received a standing ovation from fans after a diving catch in the top of the ninth inning.

Izzy hitting stride: Closer Jason Isringhausen extended his scoreless innings streak to a season-high 14.1 innings on Saturday. La Russa said that it's been as great a stretch for Isringhausen as he has seen.

"You can tell by the number of outs he is getting in the number of pitchers," La Russa said

Baby Birds: The Triple-A Redbirds dropped a 5-4 decision to Oklahoma. After falling behind 4-1, Memphis rallied to tie the score in the seventh inning. Reliever Toby Borland was pegged with the loss (1-2), giving up the winning run in the seventh inning. John Gall hit his sixth homer of the year, and Wilton Guerrero went 2-for-3 with two doubles. Skip Schumaker went 2-for-4 with a double and scored twice. The Redbirds (26-22) remain atop the American North Division of the Pacific Coast League. They hold a two-game lead over Nashville. ... Double-A Springfield enjoyed a night off on Saturday after knocking off Frisco, 4-2, on Friday night. ... Class A Palm Beach upended Tampa, 3-2, after coming back from a 2-0 deficit. Wayne Lundgren (2-2, 4.32 ERA) picked up the win with two innings of relief work. Matthew Dryer, Mike McCoy and Rayner Laya drove in all three runs for the Cardinals. All three runs came with two outs. ... Class A Quad Cities thumped Wisconsin, 7-1, to move into first place in the Western Division of the Midwest League. Michael Parisi improved to 2-4 with a 4.40 ERA. He pitched eight innings. Leadoff hitter Matt Lemaczyk scored two runs and swiped two bases. Simon Williams went 3-for-4 with two runs scored and two RBIs. Jake Mullinax extended his hitting streak to 11 games.

This day in Busch history: May 29, 1995 -- The Cardinals edged the Colorado Rockies, 6-5, in 11 innings. John Habyan picked up the win in relief. He combined with Tony Fossas, Rene Arocha and Tom Henke for five innings of relief work in which none of the trio gave up an earned run. Ray Lankford went 2-for-4 with a run scored, and Geronimo Pena picked up three RBIs with two hits. Thanks to for the information.

Stephen A. Norris is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.