Yadier Molina's defensive importance

Updated: April 22, 2013, 9:52 AM ET
By Buster Olney

PHILADELPHIA -- The other St. Louis Cardinals players on the field keep their eyes on Yadier Molina constantly, pitch to pitch, in the way that interstate truck drivers might lock in on the leader of a convoy. Everything they do -- every decision, every movement -- follows what he does, and Molina's subtle instructions could come at any moment.

With a slight nod of his head, a subtle gesture of his hand, Molina will tell the fielders what's going to happen next, and where to go. "It really is amazing that he's able to do that with everything else that he has to think about," said center fielder Jon Jay.

But this is what Molina does every day; he'll be doing it again on "Sunday Night Baseball," when the Cardinals play here against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Cardinals have pitched 154 1/3 innings this season and backup catcher Tony Cruz has caught just seven of those because Molina prepares to catch every game, works to catch every game, prepares to catch every game. The other day, St. Louis manager Mike Matheny prepared for a conversation with Molina about taking a day off by donning the horn-rimmed glasses that Molina wears away from the field. "You wouldn't hit a guy with glasses," Matheny said, as he started to explain to Molina that he was going to give him a day off.

Bengie Molina, the Cardinals' assistant coach and Yadier's older brother, said Saturday that he had no idea how much work Yadier put into his physical conditioning in the offseason and before games until after he joined St. Louis this year, and Matheny noted how Yadier has trimmed down to prepare for the long grind of the season. Some catchers, such as Buster Posey, will make a point of resting before some games, reducing the work they do on the field, but day after day, Yadier Molina goes through the same routine as all of his teammates -- and every day, he takes the time to field ground balls at shortstop or third base. "He takes as many or more ground balls as the rest of us," said David Freese.

But Molina is best known among his teammates for the preparation he does in developing and executing a game plan for his pitchers, in understanding opposing hitters and how to pitch to them.