ST. LOUIS — Remember those old home appliance commercials where the repairman never had anything to do? Tony Cruz, the backup to Yadier Molina, can relate.
In his third big league season, Cruz never has started more than three consecutive games, and that was earlier this month when Molina’s knee woes first surfaced.
Well, Cruz is about to get a chance to play regularly for at least two weeks after the Cardinals placed Molina, the leading National League MVP candidate, on the disabled list Wednesday afternoon.
Cruz, who turns 27 Aug. 18, will take over primary responsibilities behind the plate, with Rob Johnson moving from third to second string. Further details on Molina’s right knee sprain haven’t been disclosed, but don’t be surprised if his stay on the DL is longer than two weeks — giving Cruz even more chances to play. After talking with Cruz earlier this season, I believe he’s ready for this opportunity. Think about it. You hang around Molina long enough, you’re going to pick up some baseball knowledge. Cruz said he has learned a lot from talking and watching the Cardinals’ All-Star backstop. The two watch video together and talk about opposing hitters as well as their own pitchers on a regular basis.
Let’s not get carried away, of course. No one can replace Molina. Not Buster Posey. Not Joe Mauer. Not Johnny Bench. Well, 40 years ago, Bench could have. But Bench is 65 and does his best work these days singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.
But Cruz is as prepared to take over regular duties, at least on a short-term basis, as anyone the Cardinals could reasonably acquire. He has become an active participant in the pitchers’ meetings before games. He knows the Cardinals’ pitchers better than any catcher besides Molina. Though his skills don’t equal Molina’s, they could be very good. He’s never had much of a chance to show it.
Cruz’s batting average is only .218 (12 for 55), but hitting in such spot duty is not like hitting everyday. He won’t hit .330 or anything, but playing regularly should help him find some kind of groove. He was a .266/.320/.413 hitter in five minor league seasons.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.