PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Though he wouldn't confirm Yadier Molina as the Cardinals' Opening Day catcher, manager Mike Matheny strongly implied it when he acknowledged on Friday that "there is nothing left for him to check off."
Matheny went on to describe Molina as "just another one of our players," a designation the veteran catcher welcomes after beginning camp still limited following a pair of offseason surgeries on his left thumb. Since having a cast removed in early February, Molina has methodically worked his way back into baseball activities -- first throwing, then catching and, most recently, swinging a bat.
Molina's start behind the plate against the Mets on Friday was his ninth in Grapefruit League action, which, even with the delayed spring program, is tops among the team's catchers.
"He's ready," Matheny said. "We'll continue to monitor strength and keep testing him, but right now everything is in a good spot. We look forward to him continuing to get timed up as far as his at-bats go, which have been looking very good also. We just want to make sure that as he gets more chances to play that he continues to have good responses in the training room with the strength. But so far, he's right where he needs to be."
When the Cardinals opened camp last month, it was far from a certainty that Molina would be Adam Wainwright's batterymate in Pittsburgh on April 3. His availability was to be determined by how quickly he regained strength. That process has turned out to be as seamless as the club could have hoped.
"We didn't know exactly [how it would look] until we got down here," Matheny said. "Then you don't know, too, until he makes those steps forward what his swing was going to look like. Was he going to be favoring it? Or was strength still an issue? And all those were pleasant surprises."
Molina, who didn't swing a bat the first two weeks of camp, described his timing as "terrible" a week ago. It seems to have since improved, as Molina went 3-for-5 with a walk in appearances on Monday and Wednesday.
Because the Cardinals are confident that they'll open the season with two uninhibited catchers, the club does not have plans to carry a third catcher on its Opening Day roster.