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Yadier Molina a big key for Cards' success

JUPITER, Fla. (AP) — The St. Louis Cardinals know they're fortunate to have one of the best catchers in the league in Yadier Molina.

Outside of Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins, it would be tough to find a better catcher the past two seasons after Molina's consecutive Gold Gloves and a batting average that has hovered around .300.

"I've played with Joe. They're very similar," Cardinals pitcher Kyle Lohse said. "When you've got Yadi back there you don't have to worry about a whole lot. That's a great comfort to have as a pitcher."

What sets Molina apart are his defense and his arm. He has thrown out at least 40 percent of potential base stealers in four of his five full seasons in the majors and many runners just don't bother to test his strong arm.

Just 32 base runners successfully stole against Molina last season in 54 attempts. Of the five catchers who played at least 130 games (Molina was second with 138), the next closest was Detroit's Gerald Laird, who allowed 59 steals.

Molina has picked off 34 runners in the past five years, which leads the majors.

"I get real special pleasure by watching a great defensive player," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "Yadi, everyday that you watch, you watch him catch a bullpen, it's artful with his hands. He had that skill early and he's gotten more experience so he's better. He really is a great, I mean a great player. Without exaggerating he's a great player."

La Russa knows he has a good thing and wants to keep it that way. He has talked this spring about Molina trying to limit his collisions, something he watched Carlton Fisk do later in his career.

"I don't know if you can coach a little bit of this but I remember Carlton Fisk, after he hurt his knee, he started being more careful," La Russa said. "You've got to keep him in the lineup so that violent collision is, although unavoidable some times, but other times he's important enough to maybe make the tag and not take the big hit. Give the runner a piece of the plate."

Although he escaped serious injury a year ago, two seasons ago Molina was carted off the field after a collision with the Phillies' Eric Bruntlett. He suffered a concussion but was not placed on the disabled list.

Still, he has missed several games and also spent time on the disabled list for a variety of injuries, among them a fractured wrist, broken bone in his hand, bruised thigh and knee surgery.

Molina, though, does not plan on stepping aside, for anybody, at any time.

"Early in the season you think about it more because you want to be healthy and you don't want to take a risk," Molina said. "But at the same time that's part of my game. I have to do it. That's part of my job. If I have to do it right now in spring training, I would do it."