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03/25/10 2:31 PM ET

Molina questionable for Opening Day

Cards catcher to see little spring action after oblique strain

JUPITER, Fla. -- Less than 24 hours after he strained his right oblique running the bases, a grimmer picture was painted about Yadier Molina's status for the rest of Spring Training and the start of the regular season.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa summed it up in one phrase.

"Doubtful for Spring Training, but we have our fingers crossed for the early part of the season -- maybe Opening Day," La Russa said on Thursday morning about his catcher, admittedly one of the more irreplaceable members of his team.

Molina sustained the injury while sliding into second base after a double in the second inning against the Orioles' Brian Matusz on Wednesday. After a single by David Freese, Molina was waived home but stopped short at third base, signaled for the training staff and was immediately taken out of the game.

On Thursday, Molina had the area tightly wrapped with an ice pack pressed on his right side. The oblique originally bothered the 27-year-old backstop before Monday's game in Kissimmee, Fla., but he played through it, La Russa said Wednesday.

Molina said he's feeling better and is still hopeful of being ready for Opening Day, but added that he hasn't been told anything concrete about how much time he'll be out of action.

The Cardinals want to wait another 24 hours to get a clearer picture.

"[I'm] still a little bit sore," Molina said, "but feeling better."

Though La Russa doesn't expect Molina to get much Spring Training action the rest of the way, he said the two-time Gold Glove Award winner doesn't need to play in any Grapefruit League games moving forward to be ready for Opening Day on April 5.

"It's too early," La Russa said. "But we're just going to be really patient and really optimistic. I don't know that he'll see a lot of Spring Training action."

The injury would affect a player at any position because of the twisting of the body on swings, but it would especially bother a catcher such as Molina, who puts a lot of stress in the area trying to throw out would-be base stealers and making pickoff throws to first base.

"What can you do in baseball [with an oblique injury]? Side, back, you can't throw, you can't do this, you can't do that," La Russa said. "I just think he's going to be really careful. I know he's going to be careful. The thing with him is he doesn't like to be careful."

A little more than an hour before the Cardinals' game against the Mets, catcher Matt Pagnozzi returned to St. Louis' clubhouse at Roger Dean Stadium. Pagnozzi, cut from camp on Monday, will be the extra catcher throughout Spring Training and possibly the start of the regular season, behind temporary starter Jason LaRue.

Since Pagnozzi is a player on the 40-man roster who was optioned -- to Triple-A Memphis -- the Cardinals would have to place somebody on the disabled list at the start of the season if they want to place him on the 25-man roster come Opening Day.

If Molina starts the year on the 15-day DL, however, he wouldn't necessarily be out a minimum of 15 days. The earliest retroactive date this season is March 26, meaning the soonest Molina can return if he starts the season on the DL is April 10, which would put him out of action for the first four regular-season games.

But Opening Day is still on the mind of Molina and the Cardinals.

As for how possible that is?

"There is a chance," La Russa said. "I don't think we expect him to do a lot of Spring Training, but there is a chance."

Molina -- batting .314 (11-for-35) in 13 Grapefruit League games -- is having a solid spring, which is no surprise to his manager. The National League's starting catcher in the 2009 All-Star Game is one of the best defensive backstops in the game, has been lauded for his work with the Cardinals' pitching staff and is a threat offensively. Over the last two seasons, Molina has batted .298 with a .358 on-base percentage while driving in an average of 55 runs per year.

La Russa believes he's as indispensable as guys like Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday or Chris Carpenter.

"I don't think there's anybody on our team more important than Yadier," La Russa said. "There's others that are as important, but Yadi is right there tied for first. But at the same time, I think we're fortunate that Jason will rise to the occasion, and this will give [Pagnozzi] more experience here late in the spring, which is good. But Yadi is a special player."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.