JUPITER, Fla. -- The Cardinals are bracing for confirmation that they'll open the season without starting shortstop Jhonny Peralta after an initial MRI indicated that Peralta suffered a ligament tear in his left thumb.
General manager John Mozeliak revealed the news on Monday, shortly after Peralta was seen leaving the complex before the club's 9-4 win over the Mets. Peralta sustained an injury to his glove-hand thumb while fielding a foul ball in Saturday's game.
Mozeliak acknowledged that "the initial read is not positive" and, when asked about how much time Peralta could miss, estimated an absence of about two to three months.
Peralta, who notified the Cardinals' staff of discomfort on Saturday, did not initially think the injury was all that severe. An MRI taken on Sunday suggested otherwise and necessitated Peralta travel back to St. Louis for a second opinion. The Cardinals expect to have a firm diagnosis by mid-week.
"Unfortunately, once this is compromised, the lack of strength will ultimately be putting you in a very vulnerable position," Mozeliak said.
This is an injury with which the Cardinals are quite familiar. Catcher Yadier Molina is still recovering from offseason surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb. He, too, was given a recovery time of two to three months, though the need for a second surgery extended that timeframe significantly.
Peralta is entering the third year of a four-year contract and has provided stability at the shortstop position since he signed. He started 298 games at short over the past two seasons and hit .269/.335/.427 with 38 homers and 146 RBIs.
"It hurts," Matt Holliday said of preparing for the season without Peralta. "Obviously he's a really, really good player. But we have guys who are capable. We'll see what that's going to look like and who is going to be there every single day."
The Cardinals did seek to improve their depth behind him this offseason, and their ability to acquire utility infielder Jedd Gyorko may now be more crucial than anticipated. The club will look to Gyorko, Greg Garcia and Aledmys Diaz to cover the position until Peralta returns.
Mozeliak also said he would entertain a potential shortstop acquisition, depending upon the determined severity of Peralta's injury.
"I definitely think Mr. Gyorko gives you more flexibility, especially from an offensive standpoint," Mozeliak said. "And in terms of what we look like, there are always opportunities to get better. Right now we just have to take this information, absorb it, and that will determine what our next steps are over the next week or two."
Gyorko, acquired in a December trade with the Padres, drew the start at short on Monday and went 2-for-3 with a two-run double. It wasn't a position he played much until 2015, when the Padres had him make 28 starts at short. Garcia, in contrast, started 304 games as a shortstop in the Minor Leagues.
The two entered camp positioned to compete for spots on the big league bench as utility infielders.
This injury will also enhance the spring opportunities for the 25-year-old Diaz, now in his third year with the organization. Intrigued by the way Diaz closed the 2015 Minor League season and then performed in the Arizona Fall League, the Cardinals view him as a potential successor to Peralta. His future may just be accelerated now.
"We'll keep firing them all in there," manager Mike Matheny said, "and see what happens."
Peralta had two plate appearances in the team's Grapefruit League opener and then had another two in Saturday's win over the Marlins before exiting the game. His departure did not draw much attention at the time given that most of the team's everyday players are removed after a few innings in these early spring games.
"Obviously, we hate losing Jhonny for that long of time," said teammate Adam Wainwright. "He's a great person. He's a great teammate to everybody in here. We're going to miss him, but he's going to come back strong."
Expected to miss April and possibly all of May, Peralta will struggle to accumulate 400 at-bats in '16. With a lifetime .268 average and a lack of speed, Peralta was already a low-end option in standard leagues. The veteran should now open the campaign on waivers in most formats, though he could be stashed on the disabled list in leagues that allow liberal use of that option. While the 33-year-old recovers from his thumb injury, Gyorko could log a heavy early-season workload at the shortstop position. Because of his power stroke (49 homers across 1,307 career at-bats), the 27-year-old may earn an April lineup spot in deep-mixed formats.