ST. LOUIS -- After sitting on the disabled list for 15 days while inflammation in his right knee subsided, Yadier Molina returned to the field on Thursday trying to jump-start a team that has skidded without him.
Missing his bat in the middle of the lineup and his intangibles behind the plate, the Cardinals went 6-8 during Molina's absence. He returns with a batting average of .330, the second-highest in the National League, and with a catchers' ERA of 3.26 this season.
"When you look at what Yadi brings to the table, there is pure performance -- and everyone could see he was having a tremendous season -- but there are those things as far as leadership, game management, and, I think the pitchers would tell you, a level of confidence knowing he's behind the plate," general manager John Mozeliak said. "Clearly, that's been missed. How does that affect wins and losses? That's probably hard to quantify. But it's understandable that getting him back here will be a lift."
"Tony [Cruz] and Rob [Johnson] have done a nice job," added manager Mike Matheny, "but we're ready, obviously, to get Yadi back in there."
The Cardinals have devised a playing time plan for Molina in hopes that more frequent rest will help the wear and tear on his knee. That plan will include scheduled days off that will be given regardless how good Molina says he feels. Even with the time missed while on the disabled list, Molina still ranks fourth in the Majors in innings caught (804) this year.
"We just have to be smart," Mozeliak said. "Obviously, I think you just look at how things go [on Thursday], and that might dictate how things look the next day. But prioritize rest certainly in the first seven days back. We have to be cognizant of that and think through it. … Clearly, we need to make sure there are breaks in his workload."
Molina made his presence known immediately on Thursday, throwing out the Pirates' Starling Marte as the speedy outfielder tried to swipe third in the first inning. Molina received a sustained ovation before his first at-bat, which ended with a foul pop-out.
He finished 0-for-5 with a strikeout in the Cardinals' 6-5 win over Pittsburgh in 12 innings but caught the entire game.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. Chad Thornburg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.