ST. LOUIS -- After sitting on the disabled list for 15 days while inflammation in his right knee subsided, Yadier Molina returned to the field on Thursday trying to jump-start a team that has skidded without him.
Missing his bat in the middle of the lineup and his intangibles behind the plate, the Cardinals went 6-8 during Molina's absence. He returns with a batting average of .330, the second-highest in the National League, and with a catchers' ERA of 3.26 this season.
"When you look at what Yadi brings to the table, there is pure performance -- and everyone could see he was having a tremendous season -- but there are those things as far as leadership, game management, and, I think the pitchers would tell you, a level of confidence knowing he's behind the plate," general manager John Mozeliak said. "Clearly, that's been missed. How does that affect wins and losses? That's probably hard to quantify. But it's understandable that getting him back here will be a lift."
"Tony [Cruz] and Rob [Johnson] have done a nice job," added manager Mike Matheny, "but we're ready, obviously, to get Yadi back in there."
The Cardinals have devised a playing time plan for Molina in hopes that more frequent rest will help the wear and tear on his knee. That plan will include scheduled days off that will be given regardless how good Molina says he feels. Even with the time missed while on the disabled list, Molina still ranks fourth in the Majors in innings caught (804) this year.
"We just have to be smart," Mozeliak said. "Obviously, I think you just look at how things go [on Thursday], and that might dictate how things look the next day. But prioritize rest certainly in the first seven days back. We have to be cognizant of that and think through it. … Clearly, we need to make sure there are breaks in his workload."
Molina made his presence known immediately on Thursday, throwing out the Pirates' Starling Marte as the speedy outfielder tried to swipe third in the first inning. Molina received a sustained ovation before his first at-bat, which ended with a foul pop-out.
He finished 0-for-5 with a strikeout in the Cardinals' 6-5 win over Pittsburgh in 12 innings but caught the entire game.
Cruz sent to disabled list with forearm stress fracture
ST. LOUIS -- After playing more frequently over the last two weeks than at any point during his Major League career, Tony Cruz has now been prescribed a period of rest. The Cardinals placed their backup catcher on the disabled list on Thursday with a left forearm stress fracture, an injury Cruz estimates he's been playing through for about a month.
An MRI taken on Monday revealed the microfracture, and doctors told Cruz that playing with it would risk a bigger break. The Cardinals made a calculated decision to start Cruz anyway on Tuesday and Wednesday, but they did strip his pregame work down to a minimum. Cruz hasn't taken outdoor batting practice with his team this week.
"It was bothering me quite a bit, but that's part of the game," Cruz said. "I tried to stay in there as long as I could. I wouldn't say it got worse [by playing regularly], but it definitely wasn't getting any better."
Cruz could not pinpoint a specific incident that led to the fracture, believing instead that it was more an injury of attrition. He has been wearing a compression sleeve on his arm for weeks.
The fracture impacted Cruz most when swinging, though he added that his arm was also uncomfortable while catching. Cruz started 10 of the 14 games during Yadier Molina's absence. He went 9-for-44 with six RBIs.
"We really appreciate and respect how he just went out there and kept doing his job," manager Mike Matheny said. "You couldn't really tell by watching him, because he wasn't favoring it much at all. He did a good job of just going and playing. You don't hear a lot of complaining, regardless of lack of playing time or injury. He just goes and plays the game and does whatever he can to help us."
General manager John Mozeliak said doctors have recommended Cruz rest for seven to 10 days before reevaluating the injury. Had Cruz not taken on a much heavier workload the past two weeks, there's a good chance he could have finished the season without needing an extended period of rest.
"We probably wouldn't have put him on the DL, because the flag wouldn't have risen to a point of concern," Mozeliak said. "But now that he's playing every day, I think that had an adverse effect on him."
The timing was convenient for the Cardinals, who needed to make a pair of roster moves with the return of Molina and Shane Robinson. Had the club taken catcher Rob Johnson off the roster, he would have been exposed on waivers for another team to claim.
The Cardinals do expect to get Cruz back in September, which would again give the Cardinals three catchers on their roster.
"I'd rather be out there with the guys, but it is what it is and hopefully it does get better," Cruz said. "The only way bone heals is by resting, not doing anything."
Wacha adjusting nicely to bullpen role
ST. LOUIS -- Michael Wacha has a new view on the game. For the first time in his young Major League career, the rookie is pitching out of the bullpen.
"It is a different perspective out there," Wacha said. "It's a little bit tougher out there staying focused from that far away."
But the right-hander didn't miss a beat on Wednesday, striking out four in two perfect innings of relief. Wacha made four starts this season (going 1-0 with a 4.37 ERA), but was transitioned into the 'pen this week after a spot-start on Saturday. Wacha pitched in relief last year in the Minors, but it was more an effort to control his innings work when he was fresh off his junior season at Texas A&M.
"It's just definitely an adrenaline rush," Wacha said. "It was a little different. Had to warm up a little bit quicker, but I just tried to go out there and attack the hitters right away."
"It sort of reminded me of what we saw last year during his rise up through the Minor Leagues and also what we saw in Spring Training," said general manager John Mozeliak. "Very electric stuff, and hopefully we can tap into that in high-leverage spots now."
Wacha said he has never pitched on back-to-back days, but added that he could pitch on Thursday if he had to, although the Cardinals intend to ease him into his new role before he makes consecutive appearances.
"We typically don't show our hand ahead of time, but he's not going to pitch [Thursday]," manager Mike Matheny said. "We'll take a look at him [on Friday]. I imagine it'll be how quick he bounces back, how he shows the trainers he is bouncing back, how he feels. … That's not in the real near future [throwing back-to-back days], but I don't think it's something we can rule out down the road."
Despite needing six relievers to complete a 6-5 win over Pittsburgh in 12 innings, Wacha did not pitch.
• As expected, the Cardinals activated Robinson (right shoulder strain) from the disabled list on Thursday. With his return, Robinson gives the Cardinals another right-handed bat off the bench. In order to clear a spot for him on the roster, infielder Jermaine Curtis was sent back to Triple-A Memphis after a two-day stay in St. Louis.
Robinson didn't play in Thursday's win.
• Mozeliak said that Oscar Taveras' season-ending ankle surgery has been scheduled for next Tuesday. Charlotte (N.C.)-based foot/ankle specialist Dr. Robert Anderson will perform the procedure on the organization's top prospect. Taveras is expected to have a full recovery well in advance of next Spring Training.
• For the first time since last Friday, first baseman Matt Adams was in the Cardinals' lineup on Thursday. Adams' inclusion came after manager Mike Matheny opted to sit right fielder Carlos Beltran due to what he described as general achiness. Beltran, who is always bothered by a right foot contusion, played all 23 innings during the first two games of the series.
Adams went 1-for-5 with a run, and Beltran appeared as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning, popping out in his only at-bat.
• Mozeliak described the current waiver market as "slow," though the Cardinals still have until the end of the month to consider making a roster addition. Teams can place any of their 40-man roster players on waivers this month and are then free to trade any player who goes unclaimed.
"That's obviously something we have to pay attention to," Mozeliak said. "If we feel there's something out there that makes sense, we'll pursue it."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. Chad Thornburg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.