JUPITER, Fla. -- Yadier Molina provides an unrelenting quality to the middle of the Cardinals' lineup.
"You think you're going to take a breath [after facing Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman] and, next thing you know, he's going to have that big at-bat for you," manager Mike Matheny said. "He's got that knack for putting up real tough at-bats in big situations."
It wasn't always this way. Molina batted just .238 with a .291 on-base percentage in his first 1,033 Major League plate appearances. Then he hit .275 in 2007, and he's hit .293 or higher in the three of the four years since.
Albert Pujols used to tell people that Molina had the potential to hit .300, even when Molina was struggling to find his way at the plate early in his career.
Matheny said he had the same feelings at the time.
"I had watched him and his approach and followed him through his progression in the Minor Leagues and said, 'This guy's going to hit,'" Matheny said. "He had to find his own stride. He was really fighting to please everybody at first. But he was a low-strikeout guy, and it was just a matter of him getting comfortable. It can take a few years in this league. And once you get set defensively, that gives you the freedom to be yourself offensively."
Molina led the Cards with a .305 average last season.