ST. LOUIS -- Having spent the first four months of the season trying to anticipate each pitch Yadier Molina would call, Cardinals fill-in catcher Tony Cruz is now putting that schooling to practice.
Cruz continues to be the Cardinals' catcher of choice with Molina on the disabled list with a right knee injury. He has started seven of the eight games played since Molina's injury. Rob Johnson was in the starting lineup for the other.
"It's a dream come true when you get to come up and play in the big leagues," Cruz said. "But to come here and be able to play every day, it's like that first day again."
Cruz has drawn effusive praise from the pitchers and manager Mike Matheny for the job he has done handling the staff. That seemingly smooth transition, Cruz believes, was made possible by the work he did long before Molina went down. As Molina's backup since the start of 2012, Cruz has spent his time in the Majors taking in-game notes and, in his mind, predicting what pitch Molina would call before he did so.
Cruz's intention was to think the game through as Molina would. When Molina went a different direction with pitch selection, Cruz would later ask why. He has used former catchers Matheny and Bengie Molina as resources, too.
"That's my goal -- to call a similar game to what [Molina is] calling," Cruz said. "I'm always trying to learn in this game -- what he's thinking, what he's doing. I'm always asking him questions."
Those exercises and those questions were critical in Cruz's attempts to stay sharp while starting only 12 of the team's first 104 games. Cruz absorbed information, too, through attending the pitchers' pregame meetings regardless whether he'd catch or not. Sometimes he spoke up. Mostly, Cruz just listened.
"He was never getting a lot of credit, [though] he wasn't getting a lot of opportunities," Matheny said. "But we didn't have a whole lot of doubt what Tony could do."
The offensive output that the Cardinals have received from Cruz is considered a bonus, but it hasn't been negligible. Since becoming the team's primary catcher, Cruz is 7-for-25 with six RBIs.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.