Francisco Rodriguez attracted the media’s attention after the Mets’ 2-1 victory over the Cardinals on Saturday. After his team had taken the lead in the top of the 19th Rodriguez came on to save the game, but failed. Later, he explained that he had been up and throwing during every inning from the eighth through the 18th, resulting in roughly 100 warm-up pitches. This brought much criticism upon manager Jerry Manuel, as it should have. Yet Manuel wasn’t the only manager in the game who might have abused one of his players.
Catchers have a rougher go than most position players. While a third baseman or left fielder might handle a number of plays per game, this does not compare to the catcher, who is involved in every exchange between pitcher and batter. Not only that, but he does it from a squatting position. This can be hell on the knees. It’s no wonder, really, why catchers tend to decline at a younger age than other position players. They suffer more physical abuse. This can become a tough situation in an extra-innings game. Despite his abuse of Rodriguez, Manuel showed clemency with his starting catcher, Rod Barajas, for whom he pinch-ran, using pitcher John Maine, in the 13th inning.
The same cannot be said for Cardinals’ skipper Tony LaRussa. His team possesses an advantage at catcher, as Yadier Molina ranks among the league’s finest. Why, then, would LaRussa push that advantage to the point where he might no longer be one? I’m referring to Molina’s 20 defensive innings from Saturday. That cannot be healthy for a catcher. Molina squatted for the equivalent of extra-inning doubleheaders, without the benefit of a rest between games. Yet it’s not just LaRussa’s use of Molina in that single game that causes concern. It extends to his usage all season long.
The Cardinals have now played in 12 games, and Molina has started 11 of them. These run from April 5th through the 18th, 14 days. In other words, from Opening Day through last night Molina has had three days off while squatting for 11. That amounts to 106 total innings behind the plate, more than nine per game. Even worse, if we take it over the 14 days of the season it averages to almost 7.2 innings per day. That seems like quite a lot for any catcher, even one in the prime of his career.
Perhaps the 20-inning stint wouldn’t have been as bad if LaRussa had given Molina a day off surrounding it. Alas, that was not the case. He caught Friday night’s game, spending nine innings behind the plate. Saturday’s affair was a late afternoon game, but a day game after a night game nonetheless. Then, as if the extra couple of hours made a difference, LaRussa ran out Molina again on Sunday night. Does it come as any surprise that he went 0 for 4?
Molina has not had a day off since April 13, an off-day for the team. Since then he has caught 56 innings in five days. The Cardinals travel to Arizona for a three-game set starting this evening. Because Arizona doesn’t observe Daylight Savings Time, this amounts to a two-timezone jump. Would LaRussa dare start Molina again tonight?
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