Molina has nothing to prove when it comes to giving his all

ST. LOUIS — Yadier Molina could have prevented his Sunday meltdown very easily. All he needed to do was run full speed from the time he left the box. Break hard and Molina easily is safe at first.

There’s no helmet slam, no gaskets blown, no ejections, no one-game suspension and no fine for making contact with Umpire Mike Everitt.

Watch Molina game after game and you know this wasn’t the first time he has given less than full effort on a play. Surely you’ve seen him jog to first on a routine grounder or not even make it to first on a routine pop. If you’re like me, you’ve also seen pitches skip past him and thought he didn’t look all that interested in blocking them.

If you didn’t know better, you just might believe that Yadier Molina needs a lesson in hustle. A couple of years ago, I would have agreed.

But I know better now. Three reasons:

• There’s hustle, and there’s wasted hustle. Molina might be the smartest player in the game. He knows the difference.  

When he doesn’t reach first on a pop, he knows he’s still moving well enough to still reach safely if the ball is dropped. The next time he doesn’t get down to block a pitch, look at the bases. I’m betting nobody will be on them.

So when he doesn’t run all-out on a grounder, he has his reasons. On Sunday, he told reporters after the game that he thought the ball was through the hole and he was already thinking about making the turn at first. I can buy that.

• No player in the game is more valuable to his team than Molina. This gives Mike Matheny every reason to want Molina catching as many games as possible.

So let’s say Molina busted his butt on every routine grounder. That would probably be, what, maybe 50 sprints to first a year that he doesn’t make otherwise. Well, not making those 50 sprints could be the difference between catching 140 games and 145. Five more games of Molina are well worth the price of him not running all-out on every routine grounder. Heck, it would be worth the price even if it’s the difference in catching just one more game in a season.

• Like Tony La Russa before him, Matheny doesn’t have a problem with Molina’s effort. Neither do his teammates. All they do is rave about his game calling, his arm, his ability to block pitches and his bat that becomes more dangerous every year.

The Cardinals are cool with Molina’s exertion level so, really, what else matters?

Besides, if you don’t believe Molina cares enough, watch the replay of his Sunday tantrum. A little more hustle could have averted the controversy, but he got booted because he was upset for letting down his team. Fagan didn’t see it that way, but he was wrong.

So is anyone who believes Molina needs a lesson in playing hard.