Molina returns to Cards' lineup for opener

Molina returns to Cards' lineup for opener

Molina returns to Cards' lineup for opener
ST. LOUIS -- Initial fears that Yadier Molina had suffered a fracture when he was hit on the hand on Tuesday were quickly assuaged by clean X-rays after the game. And three days later, Molina was back behind the plate.

The Cardinals' catcher took a 96 mph fastball off his left hand/wrist in the ninth inning on Tuesday, prompting his exit from that game. Molina sat out of Wednesday's series finale in Arizona, but he was cleared to return on Friday after he reported no lingering tenderness or soreness.

It was a best-case scenario for the Cardinals, who count Molina as one of the team's most valuable pieces.

"Yadi looks great," manager Mike Matheny said. "Today, he came in feeling great."

Molina got off to a bumpy start in his return, as the catcher was crossed up with starter Jaime Garcia on two occasions in the first inning. He was assessed with a pair of passed balls that resulted in two early runs for the Braves.

While Matheny inserted Molina back into the lineup, he took David Freese out. The day off was a planned one for the third baseman, who, through Wednesday, had started 21 straight days.

"He was tired," Matheny said. "That's the most he's ever played. Those back-to-back days [off] mean a lot."