- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
PHILADELPHIA -- The other St. Louis Cardinals players on the field keep their eyes on Yadier Molina constantly, pitch to pitch, in the way that interstate truck drivers might lock in on the leader of a convoy. Everything they do -- every decision, every movement -- follows what he does, and Molina's subtle instructions could come at any moment.
With a slight nod of his head, a subtle gesture of his hand, Molina will tell the fielders what's going to happen next, and where to go. "It really is amazing that he's able to do that with everything else that he has to think about," said center fielder Jon Jay.
But this is what Molina does every day; he'll be doing it again on "Sunday Night Baseball," when the Cardinals play here against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Cardinals have pitched 154 1/3 innings this season and backup catcher Tony Cruz has caught just seven of those because Molina prepares to catch every game, works to catch every game, prepares to catch every game. The other day, St. Louis manager Mike Matheny prepared for a conversation with Molina about taking a day off by donning the horn-rimmed glasses that Molina wears away from the field. "You wouldn't hit a guy with glasses," Matheny said, as he started to explain to Molina that he was going to give him a day off.
Bengie Molina, the Cardinals' assistant coach and Yadier's older brother, said Saturday that he had no idea how much work Yadier put into his physical conditioning in the offseason and before games until after he joined St. Louis this year, and Matheny noted how Yadier has trimmed down to prepare for the long grind of the season. Some catchers, such as Buster Posey, will make a point of resting before some games, reducing the work they do on the field, but day after day, Yadier Molina goes through the same routine as all of his teammates -- and every day, he takes the time to field ground balls at shortstop or third base. "He takes as many or more ground balls as the rest of us," said David Freese.
But Molina is best known among his teammates for the preparation he does in developing and executing a game plan for his pitchers, in understanding opposing hitters and how to pitch to them.
As part of this, Molina will direct the positioning of his teammates from pitch to pitch. For example: If Molina knows he is about to ask left-hander Jaime Garcia to throw a back-foot slider to a right-handed hitter, he will subtly indicate this to the third baseman -- with a tilt of his head or a motion with his hand -- to give Freese a heads-up that the hitter might be slapping a grounder his way. The third baseman might back up a step, and move a step closer to the line.
Three or four times a game -- "and sometimes more," Jay said -- Molina will indicate to his center fielder what to look for. Jay says he yells a quick heads-up to the other outfielders, and then they will all shift as one. It all happens so rapidly and subtly that Jay doesn't worry about tipping off the opposing hitters.
Typically, it's the shortstops and second basemen who can see what pitch the catcher is calling, but as first baseman Matt Adams explained, Molina is really good at letting the corner infielders know what pitch is coming next.
So they keep their eyes on him, all the time. "He always knows where the ball is going to be hit," said Jay.
News and notes
Some Marlins officials have had preliminary talks about running in next year's Boston Marathon.
• I asked Freese on Saturday if he had seen interesting stuff early in the season, and he replied without hesitation, "Harvey." As in Matt Harvey.
Because the Mets and Cardinals see each other regularly in spring training, Freese noted, St. Louis had gotten early previews of Harvey and what he can do. Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Information dug out these great numbers on how Harvey is capable of ramping up his velocity in big spots, as Justin Verlander does:
Harvey's average fastball velocity on pitches leading up to two-strike counts, in the starts he's made in the big leagues: 94.5 mph.
Harvey's fastball velocity on two-strike counts: 95.3 mph.
His average fastball velocity when there are no runners in scoring position: 94.6 mph.
His average fastball velocity with runners in scoring position: 95.1 mph.
His average fastball velocity with no outs: 94.3; with one out: 94.7; with two outs: 95.1.
On Friday night, when Harvey pitched against Stephen Strasburg, his average fastball velocity was 97.2 mph.
• The Rockies are a perfect 8-0 at home.
"I don't like to bring a youngster up and have him sit," [manager Davey] Johnson said. "That's going to do him no good and he's swinging the bat pretty good down there. He had a good spring for us. It's no slight against some of the guys I've got here who've filled in in the past, but this will give him some experience up here."
While he's doing that, from the dugout, Zimmerman will watch and get healthy.
"I'll be his biggest fan," Zimmerman said. "Lucky for us we have guys like that who can step up and do things like this. Obviously Anthony's young and sooner rather than later he's going to be making an impact at this level on a daily basis. It'll be nice to see him and give him a little taste of it."
• Another great young prospect will make his debut today, when Allen Webster pitches.
• There is terrible news for a top Rays prospect.
• Matt Garza could be the next victim of major league baseball's free-agent compensation rules, writes Gordon Wittenmyer. If the Cubs keep Garza all season and give him a one-year tender offer, then he'll be attached to draft-pick compensation, as Kyle Lohse was. There are a lot of baseball executives who believe Lohse would've done better than the deal he signed with Milwaukee in March if he had signed early in the winter, before the available dollars dried up. He may not have gotten an Anibal Sanchez-type deal ($80 million), some officials believe, but they think he would've gotten a solid contract. "Once you start getting closer to spring training, I think a lot of teams have spent what they want to spend and start getting more comfortable with what they have," said a GM.
So if Garza becomes a free agent, the advice they would have for him would probably be: Push your negotiations early in the offseason. Unless you're a Zack Greinke type of talent, you don't want to be left standing when the game of musical chairs stops.
• Tim Lincecum: Go figure. I spoke with scouts this week who expressed a lot of concern about the diminishing difference between his fastball and his changeup and whether he had the weapons to be consistently good again. On Saturday, he was sharp in shutting down San Diego, as Steve Kroner writes.
The Giants have won all four of Lincecum's starts this season.
Dings and dents
"It's getting worse, not better," Hanigan said. "It's some sort of sprain in the ligament or capsule or something. It's lingering constantly, so I'm trying to calm it down."
Hanigan has been Bronson Arroyo's regular catcher the past four seasons. The last time Arroyo did not have Hanigan catching for him was Sept. 27, 2011, versus the Mets. Hanigan was injured and Mesoraco caught the game as Arroyo allowed four runs and nine hits over eight innings.
On Saturday, Arroyo held the Marlins to just a pair of runs in eight innings.
Although nagged by the thumb since it was struck by a foul ball at St. Louis on April 9, Hanigan has struggled offensively. He entered the day batting .079 (3-for-38). A MRI exam taken on the thumb recently showed no serious damage.
Hanigan avoided speculation about whether he might need to go on the disabled list. Besides Hanigan and [Devin] Mesoraco, the Reds do not have any other catchers on the 40-man roster. Veteran Corky Miller would be a logical choice to come up from Triple-A Louisville if there is a need.
"I don't know. We'll have to see what they want to do," Hanigan said. "I don't want to comment on that until I talk to them."
Hanigan is highly regarded by rival scouts for the way he handles a pitching staff, but if he does go down, the Reds are probably better suited to deal with his absence than they would have been a year ago, because Devin Mesoraco is playing better.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Derrick Goold addresses the question of whether the Cardinals would trade their star prospect for another star prospect.
6. The Mariners were shut down.
8. The Dodgers' offense is a rumor, writes Dylan Hernandez.
9. The Marlins made mistakes.
Joe Maddon invited a DJ into his clubhouse.
The Indians ended their losing streak with a vengeance, writes Paul Hoynes.
Kelvin Herrera's long-ball issues continue.
Mike DiGiovanna writes about the problems that have put the jobs of the Angels' manager, pitching coach and GM in jeopardy.
The Astros' starters have not had a good week.
A big screen at Wrigley is a jumbo-sized mistake, writes Philip Bess.
• The Orioles honored Earl Weaver, as Peter Schmuck writes.
• The Brewers did a really nice thing for a minor league coach coping with cancer.
• A New York teenager is drawing comparisons to Sandy Koufax.
• Vanderbilt split a doubleheader.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Buster Olney writes about the important role that St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina plays in setting the team's defense, plus the usual news and notes from around baseball.