St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina was scratched from manager Mike Matheny's Game 4 lineup Tuesday morning after aggravating a thumb injury swinging at a pitch Monday night. Backup Tony Cruz will start with the Cardinals needing a win to stay alive in the National League Division Series against the Cubs.
Molina sprained his left thumb when Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo slid into his glove during a game Sept. 20, and did not play again in the regular season. The seven-time All-Star returned to the Cardinals' lineup for Game 1 of the NLDS, but was unable to continue after whiffing at a Jake Arrieta slider in the fourth inning of Game 3.
The Cardinals left Wrigley Field Monday night planning on having Molina in the lineup for Game 4, but his thumb didn't respond to treatment as well as trainers would've liked.
Matheny said the issue for Molina isn't catching -- he's Cruz's backup for Tuesday's game -- but the discomfort associated with the sprained thumb is too great for him to effectively swing the bat.
"This is an injury that really relies on rest," Matheny said. "... At this point doctors are comfortable he can tolerate it, it’s just really difficult for him to swing the bat."
Cruz has backed up Molina for the last five seasons and will play in his eighth postseason game Tuesday. The 29-year-old hit .204 with a .545 OPS in 69 games in 2015.
Molina hit four home runs with a .270 batting average and .660 OPS, though his defensive and pitch calling/framing skills still made him a valuable asset for the 100-win Cardinals. Cubs catcher Miguel Montero, who suffered a similar injury previously in his career, called Molina the "heart" of the Cardinals and praised him for trying to play through the thumb injury.
"But he's a gamer," Montero said. "I really tip my hat to him because he's trying to come back. He's trying to play through the pain. Even though he says that it's not painful, it's just like with this, I doubt that because it's really painful. It's not what they want to happen, not having him in the lineup, but it is what it is. Hopefully he gets better. I really wish him the best because to be honest, I want him to be back there. I want to beat the best. He's the best catcher in the game."