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St. Louis Cardinals' Yadier Molina (4) rounds the bases on his grand slam past Washington Nationals second baseman Wilmer Difo (1) during the ninth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018, in Washington. The Cardinals won 11-8. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Yadier Molina, hardly the fleetest of players, ran his way into the Cardinals’ lineup Thursday night with his pre-game work. Molina, recovering from a strained left hamstring, showed manager Mike Shildt and head athletic trainer Adam Olsen enough in the afternoon that they were comfortable with Molina returning for the first time since last Wednesday.

Shildt doesn’t necessarily have Molina, who hit seventh Thursday, targeted for all four games of the key series with the Los Angeles Dodgers, citing a quick Friday night-Saturday-noon turnaround.

“That being said, he’s also been off for a week,” said Shildt. “So, in his mind ... he’s been off for a week.”

Molina actually played only four innings on Thursday as the Cardinals fell well behind early, walking and lining out in two plate appearances.

“He feels he can catch without any issue,” Shildt said. “Clearly, he’ll be a little compromised on the bases. We’ll sacrifice him scoring a run — and we’ll pinch run for him late in a game if it’s applicable. I don’t expect any ‘cheat’ steals, like he’s done. But, otherwise, I trust him.”

Molina, in fact, was hurt when he tried to sneak a steal late in a game with Washington.

Shildt admitted that Molina’s track record in recovering from injury and his general history here had been factors in the conversation about his return when he had been out only a week with the injury. “Absolutely,” said Shildt. “This definitely is a different conversation with another player.

“He texted me yesterday and said he’s ready to go. I went to the medical team and today was going to be the day he was cleared to do some baseball activity. In Yadi’s mind, baseball activity means ... baseball activity. This is not a dress rehearsal guy.

“The reality of it is there could be an issue with it in five days, today, in 10 days — with anybody and everybody this time of year. There’s no guarantee about it, but he was very confident he could regulate himself ... and not have a setback.”

Third baseman Jedd Gyorko, one of the hottest-hitting Cardinals before he suffered a groin injury, also returned to the lineup against Los Angeles lefthanded ace Clayton Kershaw.

The Dodgers have named righthander Ross Stripling, who pitched fewer than four innings as Wednesday’s starter, to start Sunday night against Adam Wainwright in the series finale.

Lefthander Alex Wood, who had been in line for the start, was moved to the bullpen and will be available sometime there during this series. Manager Dave Roberts said, “We expect him to pitch leverage innings and dominate.”

If the Dodgers take three games in the series, they will draw even with the Cardinals for a potential wild-card berth.

“The stakes are high,” said Roberts

WEAVER BECOMING NONFACTOR

Righthander Luke Weaver has gone from rotation member to sixth starter to mop-up man with the Cardinals lately and his four-run allowance in just 2/3 innings in the ninth inning on Tuesday was a jolt to him, he admitted.

He was pitching for the first time in nine days and he said, “I remember going home and being kind of speechless. You see that from time to time. You’re trying as hard as you can and things are not falling your way. The next you know, it spirals out of control. That’s just the game of baseball, right there.

“You’ve got to shake it off and continue to do what you know you can do. Try to get out there another time and flush it.”

Weaver isn’t apt to be back in the rotation any more this season.

“As a competitor and as a guy who wants to be a part of something big — and I am a part of something big still — we have so much good pitching and when you’re not up to your capability, you try to find other ways to help,” Weaver said.

Shildt said Weaver, 7-12, had shown a “first-class” attitude about having his role reduced.

Weaver smiled and said, “This game will eat you alive if you don’t have it after the failures, especially at this level.

“But we’ve got great guys, like the Wainwrights and the Carps and the Yadis,” said Weaver. “Those are even-keeled, positive guys and there’s a lot of feedback from them.”

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Rick Hummel

@cmshhummel on Twitter

rhummel@post-dispatch.com

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