Yadier Molina out third game with back injury

ST. LOUIS (AP) — St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina missed a third start because of mid-back tightness, but he and Cardinals believe he could return by the end of the weekend.

“Yesterday, I couldn’t swing,” Molina said Friday. “Today, I was swinging way better. Hopefully, tomorrow I can give you good news.”

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said before the start of a three-game series with the Pittsburgh Pirates that Molina was much improved. Matheny was hopeful the four-time All-Star would be ready Saturday, and he added that the team’s medical staff didn’t have longer term concerns.

“I think he’s going to be fine. That’s just coming from the information we’re getting medically, that he’s making strides forward,” Matheny said. “So with that being said, we know we’re closer to having him back.”

Tony Cruz made his third straight start in place of Molina, who is batting .315 with 16 home runs and 54 RBIs, and the Cardinals again had no designated backup catcher. Cruz was batting .226 in 31 games with one homer and eight RBIs.

Molina said when he swings there is “just a little pinch” in the back, and added it was more bothersome when he swung hard. He planned on testing his readiness for catching in the bullpen before or during the game.

The Cardinals were two games behind the Pirates for an NL wild card spot entering play Friday.

“It’s hard because you want to be part of this big series,” Molina said. “But at the same time, you have to think about your health. You can’t go out there 50 percent. You have to go out there 100 percent.”

Whoever catches Lance Lynn on Saturday will be accentuating a solid foundation.

Lynn has a staff-high 13 wins in his first season as a starter but has surrendered 16 runs in 22 innings over his last four outings. In three of those games, he gave up three first-inning runs.

“You have to do something proactive, that’s kind of been the message with Lance,” Matheny said. “We’ve got to do something, don’t just sit back idly and expect the first inning to change.”

Matheny, a former catcher, said Lynn needs to have a “clear idea” of the objective in the first, including breaking down each hitter and not projecting ahead.

“You start thinking further down the line, and the next thing you know you’ve let the 1-2 hitters on base because your mind is kind of getting your stuff set for the entire day instead of that particular hitter,” Matheny said. “A lot of it is just the mind games that come with pitching.”

First baseman Lance Berkman, on the 15-day disabled list with right knee inflammation since Aug. 3, said he would begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Memphis next Wednesday. Berkman was batting .267 in just 28 games with two homers and seven RBIs.

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