ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals will be without catcher Yadier Molina, who suffered a mild ligament tear in his left thumb on Sunday, for at least the next week, but they are hopeful that their veteran catcher will return to his spot behind the plate before the end of the season.
Bracing for the possibility of season-ending news after watching Molina injure his thumb during a play at the plate against the Cubs, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny described Monday's diagnoses as largely encouraging. This ligament tear is much less severe, Mozeliak said, than the one that cost Molina seven weeks last summer. Surgery is not necessary.
"There's a reason to have some optimism," Matheny said. "When he slid into third base last year, there was instantly, 'OK, this is going to be a while.' That is not the same message we're hearing right now. Right now, it's not definitive that he's going to be out for a long period of time, which, for us, is good news."
Molina, who received the diagnosis after undergoing an MRI and visiting with a hand specialist on Monday, will be re-evaluated within the next week, after which the Cardinals will determine the next course of action. The Cardinals haven't ruled out a regular-season return for the veteran catcher, though getting him back for the start of the playoffs would be the priority.
If the Cardinals clinch a division title, they wouldn't open the postseason until Oct. 9.
Molina showed on Sunday that he can catch with a compromised thumb, as he did remain in the game to receive seven pitches after sustaining the injury. Being able to grip a bat is the larger concern.
"Hands in the game of baseball are so important, whether it's receiving or throwing, because you need them both to hit," Mozeliak said. "We'll see when we can start testing it from an offensive standpoint. In the meantime, we'll look at different ways that we can help protect the hand."
The setback comes at a time when the Cardinals finally believed they were getting healthy. Matt Adams and Matt Holliday came off the disabled list during the last road trip and are moving closer to being able to play the field for a full nine-inning game. Randal Grichuk, who has been dealing with elbow irritation, returned to the field on Monday. Even Adam Wainwright, who was thought to be lost for the season when he tore his left Achilles in April, is mounting a comeback.
Now, the Cardinals hold out hope that Molina, too, will return.
"Every team goes through this from time to time," Mozeliak said. "This year, we'll end up where hopefully this will define us. I think the year we've had, the different people who have stepped up is really what the story has been all about. You certainly never want to see anybody go down. You certainly never want to lose your key players, but [we are] definitely optimistic that we'll get through it."
To strengthen their catching depth during Molina's absence, the Cardinals purchased the contract of Travis Tartamella. The club designated first baseman Xavier Scruggs for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster. Tartamella and Ed Easley will serve as backups to Tony Cruz, who will be the everyday starter while Molina is down.