Greg Garcia and Kolten Wong go way back

JUPITER, Fla. -- If you were to handicap the competition to replace Jhonny Peralta in the early months of the season, you’d probably have to put Greg Garcia in third place behind Jedd Gyorko and Aledmys Diaz.

Gyorko has rare pop for a middle infielder and is just two years into a five-year, $35 million contract. Diaz still has prospect credentials and came on like a freight train at the end of last season, hitting .380 in a three-week stay at Triple-A, and is owed $4 million over the next two seasons. The St. Louis Cardinals will be paying him that whether he is in the big leagues or the minors.

But Garcia, who has one remaining option, has something neither of the other two alternatives have: familiarity turning double plays with second baseman Kolten Wong. In fact, that is something he is extremely familiar with. Not only were Garcia and Wong paired for two seasons in the minor leagues, but they played the infield together at the University of Hawaii when Wong was a sophomore and Garcia was a junior.

“We’re really comfortable with each other,” Garcia said.

Peralta underwent surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb on Thursday, leaving the Cardinals with a void at shortstop, probably until close to the All-Star break. If Gyorko wins the shortstop job, the Cardinals could elect to let Diaz continue to play every day in the minor leagues, leaving the utility job open for Garcia, 26, who has played 63 major-league games, batting .225.

“We’re never going to replace an All-Star shortstop, but collectively we take pride in being able to fill it as well as we can,” Garcia said. “I honestly want to do whatever’s best for the team. That’s what we talk about all the time in this clubhouse."

Garcia, a San Diego native, nearly got knocked from the competition late in Wednesday’s game. While his left leg was planted while turning a double play, a Miami Marlins player made contact with his leg, causing his knee to slightly hyperextend. The Cardinals' trainer and manager Mike Matheny came out of the dugout, but Garcia said he quickly realized he was OK. He is back in the lineup Thursday, playing third base. Diaz is at shortstop for the second time in three games since the Cardinals announced Peralta’s injury.