Peralta makes strong season debut at third

Diaz remains at shortstop; Wong optioned to Triple-A

Peralta makes strong season debut at third

CINCINNATI -- For Cardinals infielder Jhonny Peralta, a March surgery to repair a torn ligament in his thumb meant that for the first time in his 13-year career, he'd need a stint on the disabled list.

Admittedly, Peralta wasn't happy.

"It's the first time for me," Peralta said. "It's kind of frustrating for me in this situation to be hurt."

After the long process, Peralta returned to the Cardinals' lineup on Tuesday with an unexpected wrinkle. With the stellar play of rookie shortstop Aledmys Diaz -- hitting .328 through 54 games with eight home runs and 30 RBIs -- Peralta shifted from his natural position of shortstop to third base.

Peralta has 203 career starts at third, most of which came in the 2009 and 2010 seasons with Cleveland and Detroit. Over that span, Peralta graded out as a slightly below average defender, with a -2.1 UZR and -5 defensive runs saved.

"I feel more confident at shortstop," Peralta admitted. "Third base, I played in 2010, I played half of the season. It's a different angle. Different direction on the ball. It's more reaction. I need to make a lot of adjustments, and I know it's not going to be easy, but I think I can handle it."

For Cardinals' manager Mike Matheny, the advantages that Peralta brings at the plate -- a career .268 hitter averaging 15 home runs and 65 RBIs per season -- as well as what he brings as a leader, make it well worth giving him a chance at third to have him get consistent playing time.

That confidence paid immediate dividends on Tuesday, as Peralta opened his season with a 2-for-4 performance with two doubles and two RBIs before he was lifted for a pinch runner in the eighth. The Cards fell to the Reds, 7-6

Peralta's first hit of 2016

"We know what he has potential to do," Matheny said. "He's just been a consistent force for our club, whether it's defensively or offense as well. Just one of the leaders on our club, one of those guys that just goes about his business, one of those silent kind of leaders."

Of course, in order for Peralta to rejoin the lineup, someone had to exit. That left second baseman Kolten Wong as the odd man out, and the Cardinals optioned him to Triple-A Memphis on Monday.

Wong had the best year of his career in 2015, hitting .262 with 11 home runs and 61 RBIs while playing in 150 games. That earned the 25-year-old the chance to be a franchise cornerstone, as well as a five-year, $25.5-million contract extension with a sixth-year option.

Wong hasn't produced to that level this season, though. Through 49 games, he hit .222 and struck out in 17.4 percent of his plate appearances -- his strikeout rate at its highest since he debuted in 2013. The decision to send him down was difficult, Matheny said, but ultimately necessary if he's going to find the offensive stroke that earned him his contract extension.

"It's a very difficult decision. From the organization standpoint, on a personal side, too, we've got a guy that we know has a great deal of ability," Matheny said. "The way things were starting to play out here, [with] guys that need to stay in the lineup and the positions where those guys can play, there's going to be a shortage on opportunities for him. Once he gets it right and we can have him around here, when he's the kind of player he can be, I believe we're a better team with him on."

Cody Pace is a reporter for MLB.com based in Cincinnati. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.