PHILADELPHIA -- It's hard to imagine the Cardinals aren't eager to get Yadier Molina back in the lineup. The veteran is considered one of, if not the best catcher in the game and is in the process of returning from a tear in his right ulnar collateral thumb ligament on July 9.
Even as Molina begins to swing again, manager Mike Matheny isn't looking ahead to the backstop's return because in his mind, that's a bad approach.
"It's a matter of getting his strength back," Matheny said. "His strength is coming back and he seems he's happy with where he's at.
"I don't want to diminish [Molina's return] from our perspective, but I feel that our perspective is different from the rest of the baseball world. I mean, they labeled him early on that he's the one player we couldn't do without. That's a dangerous place to go because injuries are a part of this game."
Without Molina, the Cards were 19-15 overall entering Friday's series opener with the Phillies, but they had won 7-of-8 in which they have averaged 5.36 runs a game and they look to be finding their offense as the stretch run begins. On Friday, Tony Cruz started behind the plate despite hitting .211 this year because of how well he works with starter Adam Wainwright. While Molina is certainly the preference, Matheny is focused on the team as it stands until Molina, who is hitting .287 with seven home runs and 30 RBIs in 83 games, returns.
"This year we needed A.J. [Pierzynski] and Tony Cruz to fill in," Matheny said. "Those are big shoes [to fill] but we can do that and we have guys competing. You also set yourself up for failure if you focus too much on when he comes back. What if he has a setback, then what? Whoever plays that day, we have to have all the faith in the world in and we do."
Still, the Cardinals have hung around this year and are again threatening to take the National League Central title as they entered Friday's action in hot pursuit of the first-place Brewers. With series at Pittsburgh and then against Cincinnati at home following their trip to Philadelphia, the next two weeks could play a huge part in the Cardinals' season and they have to do it without Molina.
"We're always excited to see any of our guys come back," Matheny said. "That's just added weapons and opportunities for us to get better. But we still have to go out there and compete."
Michael Radano is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.