ST. LOUIS (AP) — Defense has always been enough to keep Yadier Molina in the St. Louis Cardinals' lineup. This season, the youngest of three catching brothers in the major leagues has been even more impressive with his bat.
Molina has won the last two National League Gold Gloves with an arm that dissuades base-stealers from even trying and a devastating pick-off move to first. And so far this year, he also has 22 RBIs, a .301 average that goes up to .325 with runners in scoring position and a few clutch performances at the plate.
"He's a great player all-around," pitcher Chris Carpenter said. "Everybody talks about his defense and the things he does behind the plate.
"He's no slouch at the plate and he never was."
The 27-year-old Molina used to be the kid brother of Bengie and Jose Molina, two other major league catchers from the Puerto Rican family. Now that he's coming off his first All-Star season, he is the Molina brother who first comes to mind.
"He's the best at what he does," Astros speedster Michael Bourn said. "The best catcher in the majors."
Molina had three RBIs on Sunday at Pittsburgh, two days after getting four hits and four RBIs in another victory over the Pirates. During the last homestand, he came through with the go-ahead hit in consecutive games while sounding anything but cocky.
"We got the win," Molina said. "I just want to be the guy. You've got to come every day ready to go."
Molina hit a grand slam on opening day and finished April with 15 RBIs, the second-most by a Cardinals catcher in a month trailing only Ted Simmons' 20 in 1977. He is tough away from Busch Stadium, too, with 16 RBIs on the road while most often batting sixth.
With the bases loaded, he's 4 for 5 with 11 RBIs.
"He likes to be in that situation, it starts that way," manager Tony La Russa said. "He enjoys the RBI situation, and the bigger the at-bat, the more he gets fired up."
In 103 at-bats, he's struck out only 12 times, has a .379 on-base percentage and four steals in five attempts; he's not particularly fast, so he takes advantage when opposing pitchers apparently forget about him.
Beyond his imposing arm that has thrown out seven of 13 runners attempting to steal, pitchers rely on Molina's judgment. While working seven scoreless innings in a recent victory over the Braves, rookie left-hander Jaime Garcia said he never shook off Molina's signs.
"He's the best, man, he's awesome," Garcia said. "When you have a guy back there that's the best in baseball you trust him. You know it's going to be the right pitch every time."
Since 2005, Molina is the majors' best against the steal with a success rate of 42 percent.
Durable, too. Molina caught all 20 innings in a 2-1 marathon loss to the Mets last month. He started 136 games last season, tops in the majors.
"So much fun to watch," La Russa said. "The way he throws, the way he thinks, the way he mixes up the sequences. If you watch him and only him, it's worth the price of admission."