ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals are nearing the end of a 48-day stretch in which they will have had just three scheduled off-days. And because of a quirk in the schedule, they'll follow it with a period in which the team will have three off-days during an eight-day span.
Although the off-days are certainly welcomed -- especially with the summer temperatures rising -- the Cardinals are altering the team's travel plans in order to maximize how much of that downtime can be spent at home. With an off-day before the start of a three-city trip, the Cardinals are going to travel to Houston late Monday night. Typically, teams leave midday when traveling the day before the start of a new series.
But because the following two off-days both come in between road series (one in Oakland, the other in Anaheim), manager Mike Matheny wanted to give his players the extra time at home. He considered having the team fly to Houston on Tuesday morning but opted against it because of the risk of delays associated with same-day travel.
"This year, in particular, the first half has been brutal with guys getting time with their families," Matheny said. "That's part of what we've got going on right now. We have guys who have hardly seen their families. To be as effective as we can be out here, we have to make sure we have pretty good balance in other areas. It's been a tough schedule."
Those three off-days will be the Cardinals' eighth, ninth and 10th of the season. Six of them have come on the road, not counting those that have been travel days.
How the Cardinals will use the upcoming cluster of off-days for competitive purposes has not yet been determined, Matheny said. The club will have the option of skipping spots in the rotation if it wants to give anyone extra rest.
Hitting prowess sure to keep Yadi in MVP talks
ST. LOUIS -- Yadier Molina, already touting the Majors' best average, watched it tick a few percentage points higher on Wednesday before he ever took an at-bat.
Joe Torre's review of Molina's seventh-inning at-bat on June 11 prompted Major League Baseball to turn what the official scorer ruled a two-base error into a two-base hit for Molina. The reversal gave Molina another multi-hit game and increased his season average from .363 to .367.
Molina, who finished fourth in the National League MVP voting a year ago, will put himself in strong consideration again if he continues to complement his superb defensive game with this type of offensive production. He has hit safely in 54 games and leads the league in multi-hit games (29) and doubles (23).
"He's turned himself into one of the better hitters in the game," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "The adjustments you've seen Molina make, whether it's different stances, different approaches, and all that, that's what it takes sometimes. That's why Molina is, if not right now, the MVP of the league. Each year, he gets better and better as a hitter. Each year, too, you see some other little adjustments he's made in his hand position or his stance or backside. That's a lot of times what hitters need to do is make little adjustments or sometimes big adjustments to get to another level."
Molina, who continues to pride himself more in what he does defensively, has no interest in highlighting his offensive success just yet. Asked this week about leading the Majors in hitting, Molina smiled and answered, "Next question."
Molina has maintained the high level of production, too, while dealing with the rigors of catching almost every day. He has started more games (66) than any catcher in baseball and is one of just two National League catchers to have already logged 500 innings behind the plate. He surpassed that number a long time ago, too, as he entered Wednesday having caught 573 innings.
"It's impressive to watch the way he goes about it every day," Matheny said. "Every at-bat, he embodies the philosophy we like to have. He goes up with a very consistent approach and his execution in situations, he's selfless when he needs to be and he's able to come up with the big hits at the big time. Then you always have to keep in mind the demands that come from that position are greater than anything expected from anyone else out on the field. The whole story is pretty impressive."
Cardinals working quickly to sign Draft picks
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals' parade of Draft signees through Busch Stadium continued on Wednesday, with the organization welcoming first-round pick Marco Gonzales to town to sign his contract and kick off his professional career.
Gonzales became the ninth player the Cardinals selected in the first 10 rounds to ink a deal, and the organization expects to have all of the players taken during the first two days of the three-day First-Year Player Draft signed by the end of the day Thursday.
Fourth-round pick Mason Katz, a second baseman out of LSU, just wrapped up his college season on Tuesday. The Cardinals had not been permitted to negotiate with Katz while he was still playing; now that there is no such limitation, the Cardinals expect negotiations to go quickly. Scouting director Dan Kantrovitz expressed optimism that Katz would be signed as early as Thursday.
The Cardinals are also expected to announce the signing of Malik Collymore (10th round) on Thursday while Collymore is in St. Louis. Collymore, who recently graduated from high school in Ontario, Canada, will pass on his commitment to the University of Missouri to instead join the Cardinals.
Once Collymore and Katz sign, the Cardinals will know exactly how much of their $6.9079 million pool has been used on their 11 picks from the first 10 rounds. Any leftover money will then be allocated to later-round picks whom the Cardinals are trying to lure away from college -- most notably, right-hander Steven Farinaro (11th round).
Of the Cardinals' 41 Draft selections, 32 have been officially signed. Colleymore and Katz would increase that number to 34, and Kantrovitz estimated that the final total will be 36. Moving the signing deadline up more than a month -- a change that was implemented after the last Collective Bargaining Agreement -- has expedited the process of getting players signed and out to the Minors.
"I think it helps us and it helps them," Kantrovitz said. "The sooner they can get out there, the sooner they can get promoted. We're not working against that July 12 deadline. We're just working against trying to get everybody out there quickly. I think that's in our best interest. Probably in the next week or so, we should be close to done."
• Following a review by Major League Baseball, David Freese's error on June 12 was changed to an infield hit for Mets third baseman David Wright. The call was made by Tony La Russa, who is now working in the Commissioner's Office.
• Cardinals third-base coach Jose Oquendo has been chosen for induction into the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame in San Francisco. The Hall will honor Oquendo during a dugout presentation before the Cardinals face the A's in Oakland on June 28.
• After an 0-for-4 day in which he grounded into three double plays, Freese was out of the lineup on Wednesday. Manager Mike Matheny said he could see in Freese's body language the night before that the third baseman could use a day to catch his breath. Freese has started this homestand with one hit in eight at-bats.
• Right-handed pitching prospect Michael Wacha threw five innings on Tuesday, in what was his first Triple-A start since being unplugged from the big league rotation. Wacha gave up three runs on eight hits. He didn't walk a batter and struck out six.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.