With Peralta out, Cards deciding on replacement SS

Injured veteran back in camp with protective cast; Gyorko, Garcia, Diaz to battle for spot

With Peralta out, Cards deciding on replacement SS

JUPITER, Fla. -- Mike Matheny interrupted his comments regarding the Cardinals' predicament at shortstop to react to a play catcher Yadier Molina made at shortstop during batting practice before St. Louis' 5-3 loss to Minnesota on Monday.

"That was a pretty good barehand play right there, just for the record," the Cards' manager said.

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No, Molina is not among the possible replacements for the injured Jhonny Peralta at short. His pregame routine often includes fielding ground balls at different positions. Matheny did, however, joke that he'd consider putting Molina at shortstop as a way of giving reporters something to write about.

No need. The position is already undergoing plenty of media scrutiny.

The Cardinals continued what will likely be a spring-long quest to replace Peralta by giving Jedd Gyorko (0-for-3) the start at shortstop on Monday.

St. Louis expected to prepare Gyorko for a reserve role at second, short and third this season, but the left thumb injury that could sideline Peralta until the All-Star break places a greater importance on Gyorko's skills as a shortstop.

That emphasis hasn't considerably affected Gyorko's preparation.

"That's probably the toughest position on the infield," said Gyorko, primarily a second baseman at San Diego. "We were probably going to spend the most time over there anyway, regardless of how the spring went, just trying to get myself as comfortable as I can."

Peralta returned to the Cardinals' Roger Dean Stadium complex on Monday for the first time since undergoing surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb -- an injury sustained while fielding a ball against Miami on March 5.

Wearing a protective cast, Peralta said the surgery went well. He intends to spend the next couple of weeks in Jupiter before heading back to St. Louis to have the thumb re-evaluated by doctors. He expects to meet up with the team again when the Cardinals return to St. Louis for the April 11 home opener against Milwaukee.

"It's going to be hard for me to watch the guys play," Peralta said.

In the short term, he'll be watching Gyorko, Greg Garcia and Aledmys Diaz try to claim the starting spot. The Cardinals have also indicated they will look outside the organization if necessary.

On Monday, Matheny said the goal is to break camp having decided on their everyday shortstop, but he admitted that the battle could extend into the regular season.

Worth noting

• The Cardinals once again gave Matt Holliday a start at first base on Monday. Holliday has yet to start a game this spring at his traditional left-field spot, but Matheny indicated the 12-year veteran will resume left-field duties soon.

"He looks good so far," Matheny said. "That's what we're going to continue to watch, and we'll decide later how that's going to be used."

Stephen Piscotty returned to the lineup Monday, hitting in the No. 2 spot and wearing a protective pad over his left elbow. It's his first game action since being hit by a pitch on that elbow on Saturday.

"It's a little sore -- mostly just to the touch," Piscotty said. "The ranges of motion are good."

• Molina was back behind the plate for Monday's game. He is working his way back from two offseason thumb surgeries and has yet to be cleared to hit live pitching, so he watched each pitch sail into Minnesota catcher John Hicks' mitt, striking out. The Cardinals lifted Molina for a pinch-hitter in the fifth.

Chuck King is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.