Studying Molina's every move paying off for Cruz
Filling in for injured starter, backup catcher praised by staff, manager
ST. LOUIS -- Having spent the first four months of the season trying to anticipate each pitch Yadier Molina would call, Cardinals fill-in catcher Tony Cruz is now putting that schooling to practice.
Cruz continues to be the Cardinals' catcher of choice with Molina on the disabled list with a right knee injury. He has started seven of the eight games played since Molina's injury. Rob Johnson was in the starting lineup for the other.
"It's a dream come true when you get to come up and play in the big leagues," Cruz said. "But to come here and be able to play every day, it's like that first day again."
Cruz has drawn effusive praise from the pitchers and manager Mike Matheny for the job he has done handling the staff. That seemingly smooth transition, Cruz believes, was made possible by the work he did long before Molina went down. As Molina's backup since the start of 2012, Cruz has spent his time in the Majors taking in-game notes and, in his mind, predicting what pitch Molina would call before he did so.
Cruz's intention was to think the game through as Molina would. When Molina went a different direction with pitch selection, Cruz would later ask why. He has used former catchers Matheny and Bengie Molina as resources, too.
"That's my goal -- to call a similar game to what [Molina is] calling," Cruz said. "I'm always trying to learn in this game -- what he's thinking, what he's doing. I'm always asking him questions."
Those exercises and those questions were critical in Cruz's attempts to stay sharp while starting only 12 of the team's first 104 games. Cruz absorbed information, too, through attending the pitchers' pregame meetings regardless whether he'd catch or not. Sometimes he spoke up. Mostly, Cruz just listened.
"He was never getting a lot of credit, [though] he wasn't getting a lot of opportunities," Matheny said. "But we didn't have a whole lot of doubt what Tony could do."
The offensive output that the Cardinals have received from Cruz is considered a bonus, but it hasn't been negligible. Since becoming the team's primary catcher, Cruz is 7-for-25 with six RBIs.
In need of starter, Cards summon prospect Martinez
ST. LOUIS -- After twice being summoned to the Majors to provide a boost in the bullpen, prized pitching prospect Carlos Martinez is on his way to St. Louis for a start.
En route to start Triple-A Memphis' series opener in Reno on Thursday, Martinez turned around to make his first big league start against the Dodgers at Busch Stadium. An opening in the Cardinals rotation surfaced as soon as manager Mike Matheny chose to turn to Thursday's scheduled starter, Jake Westbrook, upon Shelby Miller's first-inning exit on Wednesday, when he was struck by a line drive and sustained a bruised right elbow.
That made Martinez the natural choice to fill in, as he will be pitching on normal rest.
Also joining the Cardinals on Thursday will be left-hander Sam Freeman Right-hander Keith Butler, who threw 45 pitches in relief on Wednesday, and first baseman/outfielder Brock Peterson were optioned to Triple-A to open up the necessary roster space. Sending down Peterson indicates that the Cardinals are hopeful that Miller will be able to avoid the disabled list.
The 21-year-old Martinez, ranked by MLB.com as the Cardinals' third-best prospect, has posted a 1.76 ERA in 10 Triple-A starts this season. He has held batters to a .214 batting average and has struck out 45 in 51 innings. In the two starts he has made since his last trip down from St. Louis, Martinez allowed five hits and one earned run in 10 innings.
Martinez allowed 12 hits and seven earned runs in 11 1/3 innings in his previous stints with the Cardinals.
Freeman has a 2.95 ERA in 44 games with Memphis this season. He has struck out 61 batters in 64 innings and has held opponents to a .225 batting average. He made 20 scoreless appearances from May 28 to July 26. The addition of Freeman gives the Cardinals three lefties in their bullpen.
Adams starts at first base as Craig gets breather
ST. LOUIS -- After posting a lineup that featured Allen Craig batting third and playing first base again, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny later decided that Wednesday would be an ideal day to instead start Matt Adams.
With a desire to keep Adams sharp and no interest in starting him against a lefty on Thursday, Matheny removed Craig from the lineup so that Adams could make his first start of the four-game series. The start comes one day after Adams sealed the Cardinals' 5-1 win over the Dodgers with a two-run, pinch-hit homer.
"We have to get creative at times to figure out how to get Matt into the game," Matheny said. "[Tuesday] night, obviously, he came in and made an impact. The only way we're going to be able to keep him doing that sort of thing is to keep him relatively active."
The pinch-hit blast was the third of the season for Adams, who is 10-for-28 off the bench. He is the first Cardinal since Ryan Ludwick in 2007 to hit three pinch-hit homers in a season. The last one to hit four was Carl Sawatski in 1961.
"Some players just have an ability to come off the bench and be a force," Matheny said. "I don't want to start suggesting that could be his long-term role, because I think he could be an everyday player. But you always worry how a young player can come in and be effective in a part-time role if they've never played it before."
Matheny also emphasized that the lineup switch was not to suggest that Craig is bothered by any physical issue. Craig has started 107 of the team's first 112 games.
Beltran's focus on reaching base, not hitting homers
ST. LOUIS -- After hitting his 19th homer of the season on June 30, it took Carlos Beltran 105 at-bats before he connected for another. But while his home run drought -- which lasted until he went deep in the eighth inning on Tuesday -- may have provided discussion fodder for some, Beltran insists that it never really occupied his thoughts.
"To me, it's not [a big deal]," Beltran said. "What is important to me is just to get on base. I don't go to the plate thinking that I need to hit the ball out of the ballpark. That's not who I am. I won't change."
Even with the recent sap in power numbers, Beltran leads the club with his 20 homers, and reaching that mark puts him in rare active company. Securing the 11th 20-homer season of his 16-year career, he is one of only 11 active players to accrue that many such seasons. Only five -- Alex Rodriguez (15), Manny Ramirez (14), Paul Konerko (13), David Ortiz (12) and Albert Pujols (12) -- have had more.
Already fifth all-time with 354 homers as a switch-hitter, Beltran has another benchmark in sight. With 12 more homers, he would match former teammate Lance Berkman on that list.
• Three-hit games by outfielder Mike O'Neill and second baseman Kolten Wong helped lead Triple-A Memphis to a 5-3 win over Las Vegas on Tuesday. Wong drove home two, while O'Neill finished with one RBI and one run scored. Nick Additon improved to 8-6 with the win. He gave Memphis six shutout innings, allowing two runs, one walk and striking out five.
• It took 10 pitches and sensational split-second reaction for Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw to retire Craig in a fourth-inning at-bat on Tuesday. Craig finished the game 1-for-3 against Kershaw, who afterward heaped praise on the Cardinals first baseman.
"He's one of the best hitters in the National League, in my opinion," Kershaw said. "It doesn't seem like he's fooled on any pitch. He's on everything. Every at-bat is tough."
• Wednesday was Star Wars Night at Busch Stadium, and it brought former Cardinal infielder David Eckstein back to St. Louis, too. His wife, Ashley, is the voice of Ahsoka Tano on the Star Wars: The Clone Wars series. She threw out a ceremonial first pitch to her husband before the game.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.