Hardworking Molina gets another breather

Cruz steps into lineup again for league leader in innings behind the plate

Hardworking Molina gets another breather

CHICAGO -- Bruised and banged up from the rigors of catching more innings than anyone in the Majors this year, Yadier Molina remained out of the lineup for Friday's 8-3 loss in the series opener in Chicago. It marked just the second time this season that backup catcher Tony Cruz had started consecutive games behind the plate.

Molina leads all catchers in starts (129) and innings (1,133 2/3), and barring any unexpected development, he will set career highs in both figures this year. Molina, 33, set his career benchmarks in 2009, when he made 136 starts and logged 1,176 2/3 innings. Kansas City's Salvador Perez is the only other catcher to have eclipsed the 1,000-inning mark thus far.

The wear and tear of it all, though, has recently caught up with Molina. He hasn't been seeking treatment for any specific injury, but he is dealing with a variety of minor physical ailments common to those at the position. On the heels of Molina's first career four-strikeout game on Wednesday, manager Mike Matheny unplugged the starting catcher Thursday and sensed another day off could be beneficial, even if it came at the start of a key intradivisional series against the Cubs.

Matheny said he makes such decisions independent of an opponent and not through a long-term lens -- even if days off now could help stockpile innings for later.

"We want him out there, there's no doubt," Matheny said. "But there are some days that I tell him what I see, he tells me how he feels and we come up with a plan. There are times when your body just needs to take a day. ... We see right now, and right now it says give him a day."

The only other time this season when Molina sat for two straight days came when he was dealing with the effects of fouling a ball off his right knee in April.

Otherwise, Molina has been the game's most durable catcher this year. That's in large part due to the work he did last offseason to drop approximately 20 pounds. The intent, he explained at the time, was to position himself to handle as much workload as he could be given during the ensuing season.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.