Molina gets first Grapefruit League swings

Cardinals catcher went 0-for-3 against Tigers on Friday

Molina gets first Grapefruit League swings

JUPITER, Fla. -- Having waited until the team's 16th Grapefruit League game to take his first swing, Yadier Molina looked like someone trying to quickly make up for lost time.

Batting sixth on Friday, Molina saw six pitches in his first two at-bats of the Cardinals' 2-0 loss to the Tigers. He fouled off three, swung through one and grounded the other pair to the left side of the infield for routine outs. He finished his seven-inning appearance with an extended third at-bat that ended with a flyout.

The collection of swings and the opportunity to see live pitching was essentially the final benchmark Molina had to reach this spring. With strength returning to his surgically repaired left thumb, the veteran catcher is now on the clock to try to get his swing sharp.

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He described his timing as "terrible" on Friday, but when asked if he had time to get ready by Opening Day, Molina said, "Yeah, I think so."

"I feel good now," he added. "I need to keep working on my strength, try to get it back."

The Cardinals cleared Molina to hit on Friday after he took three at-bats in a Minor League scrimmage on Thursday. He will not play in Saturday's road game but will get regular appearances over the remainder of the team's spring schedule. The Cardinals are optimistic about their chances of opening the season with Molina on the field.

"It's just another step in a good direction," manager Mike Matheny said. "He catches seven innings and takes three at-bats, and that's just about where everybody is right now. It's just a progression."

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Matt Holliday made his first outfield start of the spring on Friday and promptly provided a highlight when he robbed J.D. Martinez of a home run to end the third inning. Holliday is expected to split time between first base and left field through the rest of the Grapefruit League season.

"It's not really that big of a deal," Holliday said of his limited work in left field this spring. "I've been playing left field for 13 years. I've been working on shagging balls, doing drills out there."

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• Though the Tigers utilized a designated hitter on Friday, Matheny opted to let starter Adam Wainwright bat for himself. For Wainwright, it marked his first time back in the batter's box since he ruptured his left Achilles tendon during an at-bat last April. This time, he laid down a successful sacrifice bunt -- fitting for someone who had earlier captured the team bunting competition crown.

"It's a lot different facing a pitching machine throwing 60 [mph] than it is to face a quality big league pitcher with sink and cut and stuff," Wainwright said. "I was glad to get the job done. You can't be the bunting champ and not get your first bunt down."

Matt Adams executed his second shift-busting bunt single of the spring on Friday and drew praise for the attempt from Matheny. Adams and Brandon Moss have been putting extra time practicing bunting so they can feel comfortable enough to try surprising defenses occasionally this season.

• Catcher Brayan Pena is expected to be in the lineup on Saturday after testing his throwing arm at a flat-ground distance of 120 feet on Friday. Pena said he believes the tightness was the result of working his arm back into shape after not throwing during the offseason.

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.