ST. LOUIS -- Rob Johnson was walking back from breakfast early Sunday morning when he spotted Memphis manager Ron "Pop" Warner on the street. They exchanged pleasantries before Warner dropped some unexpected news during the unplanned encounter.
The Cardinals wanted Johnson in St. Louis.
A day later, after making the drive from Memphis to Busch Stadium, Johnson described his first call-up this season as something that "kind of caught me off guard, for sure." With a roster spot open after Ty Wigginton's release and the Cardinals wanting to tread carefully with Yadier Molina's tender right knee, the need for a third catcher presented itself.
Johnson, who will wear No. 32, was added to the Cardinals' 40- and 25-man rosters prior to Tuesday's game against Houston.
"I've never been on a team that's in first place in the big leagues," said Johnson, now with his fourth organization. "I'm excited to be here and to help contribute any way I can. You never take anything in this game, especially the big leagues, for granted. And you learn that when you play in the Minor Leagues for a half a season. Again, I'm really excited to be here. I didn't expect it at all. But now that I'm here, I'm locked in and ready to go."
Having Johnson on the roster gives the Cardinals a backup for Tony Cruz on days when the Cardinals want to keep Molina out of the lineup. It also allows manager Mike Matheny the opportunity to use one of his non-starting catchers as a pinch-hitter without exposing the club in case of injury.
How long the Cardinals will carry three catcher remains undetermined. The biggest factor in Johnson's stay will likely be Molina's health. If Molina comes out of the All-Star break feeling confident with his knees' health, the Cardinals may consider swapping Johnson for a more versatile position player in the Minors.
"It's hard to imagine carrying three catchers for an extended period, but we are going to give Mr. Johnson an opportunity, see what he can do, and hopefully he can fit in to some degree," general manager John Mozeliak said. "But he earned a shot up here by what he was doing down in Memphis. He was a great mentor to a lot of those young pitchers down there, and it's nice that he could be rewarded."
Johnson, 30, hit .236 in 59 games with Memphis. More important, the Cardinals viewed his experience as an asset to all the young, developing pitchers with whom Johnson worked.
"I take a lot of pride in that," Johnson said. "I take a lot of pride in game-calling, and what I try to do behind the plate and getting on the same page as pitchers. It's been a lot of fun. A lot of guys have been very receptive. It helps me, too, because it sparks an old guy like myself with these 21-year-olds."
Molina returns with Cards promising more days off
ST. LOUIS -- A three-day layoff proved sufficient for catcher Yadier Molina, whose right knee improved enough by Tuesday that the Cardinals were willing to put the All-Star catcher back in the lineup against the Astros.
Molina was diagnosed with right knee inflammation Saturday, the same day an MRI exam confirmed that the backstop had no structural damage in his previously structurally-repaired knee. With inflammation the only issue, the Cardinals will continue to guard against recurring discomfort by giving Molina more days off.
Before he sat over the weekend, Molina started 79 of the team's first 85 games.
"I think we just have to be smart," general manager John Mozeliak said. "He wants in the lineup, and that's great, but we have to make sure that we give him some rest from time to time."
That meant lifting him after seven innings Tuesday, when the Cardinals had a comfortable lead before the Astros tacked on four ninth-inning runs to make it a 9-5 game. Molina went 0-for-2 with a walk and a run scored before Tony Cruz took over behind the plate.
Molina has been arguably the league's most valuable player over the first half, which underscores how important his on-field presence is for the Cardinals. He enters Tuesday leading the National League with a .346 batting average and ranked second with 33 multi-hit games.
With a third catcher Rob Johnson now on the roster, the Cardinals have more flexibility to give Molina days off, while he could still be used as a pinch-hitter, or even at first base.
"It's something we're going to try and stay on top of," manager Mike Matheny said. "There are days when we're going to have to get him some rest, but when he feels good, we're going to use him. I've made it clear that when it gets hot, which it is, we're going to be very careful. There will be more days [off]. That was going to happen regardless of whether his knee started bothering him or not."
Wigginton's short Cardinals career ends with release
ST. LOUIS -- Brought in as an experienced right-handed bat off the bench and a veteran voice in the clubhouse, Ty Wigginton was released by the Cardinals on Tuesday, only about one-fourth of the way through the two-year, $5-million contract he signed in December.
While the Cardinals appreciated Wigginton's leadership abilities, it reached the point where his presence on the roster was no longer beneficial. Wigginton was going to continue to start only sparingly, and his 5-for-32 mark (with no homers and no RBIs) as a pinch-hitter was not making him much of an asset off the bench either.
The Cardinals offered Wigginton playing time in the Minors, but the utilityman declined, a choice well within his rights, given his service time. That makes Wigginton a free agent, though the Cardinals are still on the hook for the remainder of his contract.
"It was something where it comes down to production," general manager John Mozeliak said. "We just kept trying to find a way to make it work, and unfortunately, he never really got a lot of opportunities. It wasn't an easy decision, but this team is out here to perform, and it's about winning. We have to put our best 25 out there."
The Cardinals envisioned Wigginton proving some pop off the bench and serving as a backup at first base. He finished his Cardinals career without a home run and found himself low on the depth chart with Matt Adams' emergence.
Wigginton, 35, hit .158 in 57 at-bats. He appeared in games as a left fielder, third baseman and first baseman.
"I wanted to make sure he didn't have any questions or doubt that we absolutely appreciated what he was able to do for us as a team and not to take that for granted," said manager Mike Matheny, who talked to Wigginton multiple times since the veteran was informed of the club's intent. "A lot of the good things that have happened around here are because of people like Ty Wigginton.
"Now, I know that gets people up in arms because they want to keep throwing statistics around. I don't care. I know what happens in our clubhouse is happening because you have the right kind of people that are making an impact on other people. Ty made a positive impact."
The Cardinals used the open roster spot to add catching depth, though Mozeliak confirmed that the move to release Wigginton was made independent of the injury concerns with Yadier Molina.
Cards trade Boggs for international signing money
ST. LOUIS -- Unconvinced that Mitchell Boggs would be able to resurrect his career in St. Louis, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak spent the past three to four weeks testing the trade market to determine if the right-hander could be a fit elsewhere. On Tuesday, Mozeliak found a match.
The Rockies gave the Cardinals $206,400 from their pool of international signing bonus money in exchange for Boggs, whom the Cardinals sent to the Minors for the second time this season in early June. Mozeliak said the Rockies were unwilling to make a player-for-player trade and that the overall market for Boggs was dry.
The international money increases the Cardinals' pool to $2.267 million. The international market opened on July 2, and the money can be used to sign international players until that date next year.
"For us," Mozeliak said, "we look at it as being able to pick up another prospect."
Boggs' descent in value was rapid, as the Cardinals avoided arbitration by signing Boggs to a one-year deal worth $1.475 million only six months ago. Boggs was coming off a successful first season as the Cardinals' set-up man, and the organization envisioned him continuing in that role.
Those plans changed in March, when closer Jason Motte went down with an elbow injury. Boggs was given the first chance to be the team's closer, but he struggled.
At the time of his first demotion, Boggs had allowed 17 hits, walked 12 and given up 15 earned runs in 10 2/3 innings. A stint in Triple-A did not facilitate a turnaround. Upon returning, Boggs gave up runs in three of four appearances.
"My thinking with Mitchell was it was going to be hard to get him back here, so we had to do something," Mozeliak said. "No ill will toward him. Hopefully he gets himself back on track and productive in the big leagues."
The Rockies, who assigned the 29-year-old right-hander to their Double-A affiliate, will be Boggs' second organization. He was drafted and signed by the Cardinals in 2005, made his debut in '08 and helped the '11 team to a World Series title. In his six seasons with St. Louis, Boggs posted a 4.15 ERA.
"I think the exact word he used was 'disappointed,' because as I stated, I think he had higher expectations going into the season," Mozeliak said, relaying details of his conversation with the reliever. "And for it to end like this, I think it disappointed him. He said a lot of great things about this organization and the people in it, and I think he's going to miss that."
• Right-hander Tyrell Jenkins, ranked by MLB.com as the Cardinals' fifth-best prospect, has been diagnosed with a strained right lat and placed on the seven-day disabled list for Class A Advanced Palm Beach.
The injury does not require surgery, but because it has been a recurring issue for Jenkins this season, the Cardinals plan to give him more than just a week of rest. Farm director John Vuch said it was too early to determine a timetable for Jenkins' return.
Jenkins, 20, made 10 starts for Class A Peoria before being promoted to Palm Beach in mid-June. He's allowed five earned runs on 13 hits in 10 innings since the move.
• Left-hander Sam Freeman has run his scoreless-appearances streak to 14 games (23 1/3 innings) for Triple-A Memphis. During the scoreless streak, Freeman has scattered 14 hits and 11 walks.
• Memphis first baseman Brock Peterson was one of six Triple-A All-Stars to be selected to participate in the upcoming Triple-A All-Star Home Run Derby. Peterson leads the Pacific Coast League with 20 home runs.
• Left-hander Tyler Lyons earned Pitcher of the Week honors (July 1-7) in the Pacific Coast League after making a pair of quality starts for Memphis last week. Lyons allowed three runs on four hits in 15 innings. He struck out 18, walking only three. Since returning to the Memphis rotation after a stint in St. Louis, Lyons has limited opponents to five hits in 69 at-bats.
"We talked since his return back down there, it's all about fastball execution," said Johnson, who caught Lyons in the Minors. "There's no doubt that his breaking stuff is very good, but to compete at this level, I think you have to execute your fastball better. And I think that's what he's really been concentrating on. He's done an excellent job of that these last two outings."
• Double-A Springfield catcher Audry Perez was named Texas League Player of the Week after going 7-for-14 with two homers, a double, seven RBIs and three runs scored from July 1-7. He is the fourth Springfield player to win a weekly league honor this season.
• Right-hander Chris Carpenter remains on schedule to throw a 100-plus pitch simulated game at Busch Stadium on Wednesday. Carpenter, eyeing a second-half return to the Cardinals' pitching staff, threw a 106-pitch session Friday. If all goes well Wednesday, the Cardinals will likely send Carpenter to Florida to continue his pitching program.
• St. Louis native Phyllis Smith of The Office threw out a ceremonial first pitch prior to Tuesday's game. Smith spent some time on the field and in the Cardinals' dugout prior to Tuesday's game and met her favorite player, David Freese.
• The Cardinals have still not settled on their rotation order after the All-Star break. With the break lasting four days, the Cardinals have the flexibility to order their starters any way they would like. That would include having Adam Wainwright start the final game of the first half and the first game of the second half.
• Daniel Descalso, a lifetime 6-for-18 against Astros starter Bud Norris entering Tuesday, earned the start at shortstop over Pete Kozma. Descalso entered the game hitting .293 this season when in the starting lineup.
• Matt Holliday was among a group to present the Pujols Family Foundation with a check for more than $350,000 prior to Tuesday's game. The money was raised during Monday's celebrity golf tournament, hosted by Holliday.
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.