After gaining some early time behind the plate, Andrew Knizner has unquestionably stepped into his own as the Cardinals backup catcher.
Being the backup to a probable Hall of Famer in Yadier Molina is difficult. These are big shoes to fill. But Andrew Knizner, who had never consistently been given the chance to be Molina’s main backup on the St. Louis Cardinals, has done the job admirably when given the chance this season.
Molina, TK, has long been praised for his control of the pitching staff. Adam Wainwright and other pitchers trust Molina completely and will throw whatever he suggests. Knizner sits in on those meetings with Molina and the pitchers and knows what Molina would do. At the same time, he has his own way of working with the pitching staff. In a couple of cases, the pitching seems to improve a little bit with Knizner behind the plate.
In the 11th inning of Tuesday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Knizner replaced Molina after he was lifted for a pinch-runner and caught the second inning of Alex Reyes’ relief appearance.
It was almost as if Reyes kicked into another gear for his second inning. Fans on social media were buzzing in amazement at how effective Reyes was against the last two batters and about Knizner’s role. After all, two-inning appearances are not something expected of Reyes as he is the presumptive closer and has had his share of injuries in the past few of seasons.
Manager Mike Shildt told reporters after the game that while Knizner and pitching coach Mike Maddux did have a plan going into the 11th inning, it was Knizner’s final choice to have Reyes throw six consecutive sliders before ultimately striking out Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Billy McKinney.
It highlights that Reyes, along with Shildt and Maddux, have a lot of trust in Knizner. You don’t put your closer with an extensive injury history in that position if you don’t have trust both Reyes and the catcher. You’d expect that level of trust from Molina. This is almost a new level of trust we are seeing for Knizner.
Martinez has not pitched that deep into a game after a couple of seasons in which he was mostly a reliever. He gave up five hits and struck out three while walking two. He didn’t do so well in his start on May 8 against the Rockies, giving up five earned runs, but the Cardinals won the high scoring affair 9-8. Martinez did strike out two while walking five. Molina was behind the plate for this start, but Martinez struggles could be directly connected to him jumping up in down in celebration the previous night after Jack Flaherty hit a home run.
In many games with Molina and Martinez, you can see Martinez getting frustrated as he wants to throw a certain pitch but Molina suggests otherwise. You don’t shake off Molina, but you also have to feel a since of confidence in your pitch. So it was good to see Martinez seemingly have that sense of confidence and a trust in Knizner that he will work with him on what he wants to throw.
There is no replacing Molina, but if he needs a day off, the Cardinals can feel confident when they have Knizner behind the plate.