Injured shortstop Jhonny Peralta on Sunday morning accepted grounders for the first time since suffering a torn left thumb ligament in spring training.
Peralta, 33, who underwent surgery March 10 that landed him on the St. Louis Cardinals’ disabled list, has recovered remarkably well. He wore a supportive brace around the thumb Sunday and said there is no pain in the area and that his strength is returning.
“The progress is pretty good,” Peralta said before the Cardinals lost to the Washington Nationals 6-1. “It felt pretty good taking ground balls and throwing to first base for the first time. Not too bad. It feels like early spring training to me. The rehab is going pretty good. It feels strong.”
General Manager John Mozeliak said Friday that Peralta could be ready for a rehab assignment in three weeks. Peralta has yet to hit. That comes next.
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“I’m excited now. It’s coming soon,” Peralta said. “I’m just taking ground balls now. Nothing about hitting. That’s coming soon. I don’t know what day.”
We try not to get too excited because there’s always that chance as you push it to that next step, something might slow you down. But so far, he’s been moving along as hoped.
St. Louis manager Mike Matheny on Jhonny Peralta’s recovery from thumb surgery
Peralta acknowledged the speediness of his recovery.
“That’s what the doctor said, too, that I was doing it really quick,” Peralta said.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny will contain his optimism for the time being.
“We try not to get too excited because there’s always that chance as you push it to that next step, something might slow you down,” Matheny said. “But so far, he’s been moving along as hoped.”
Peralta certainly doesn’t have to rush back, however, given that Cuban rookie Aledmys Diaz has emerged as the Cardinals’ best hitter in the first month of the season.
Diaz began Sunday batting .405 and tied a franchise record with 30 hits in April.
“Diaz is doing pretty good,” Peralta understated. “What else can you say about him? He’s a good-hitting guy and he’s doing what he needs to be doing. We needed him on the team.”
When Peralta returns, it’s likely both he and Diaz will be in the lineup. Peralta said the Cardinals have not yet approached him about playing a different position.
“They’ve said nothing to me yet,” Peralta said. “But how (Diaz) is hitting right now, he’s supposed to be on the team. What he’s doing, he needs to be on the team.”
Matheny said Diaz possesses the athleticism required to handle other positions, so Diaz could be the player to move around the field to keep his bat in the lineup.
Diaz staying focused
One of the 25-year-old Diaz’s most impressive talents is ability to make consistent contact, especially with two strikes. Diaz has struck out just five times in 78 plate appearances.
“I focus on not striking out and putting together good at-bats,” Diaz said. “I don’t focus on getting a hit. You can’t control that. When I get two strikes, I don’t think about making a big swing. I try to put the ball in play and see what happens.
“Sometimes the pitcher throws you a nasty slider or a nasty breaking ball, but you have to keep your focus and your approach. Look for a good ball to hit and put it in play. It’s tough because there’s a lot of good pitchers here, but you have to be ready.”
I focus on not striking out and putting together good at-bats. I don’t focus on getting a hit. You can’t control that. When I get two strikes, I don’t think about making a big swing. I try to put the ball in play and see what happens.
Rookie shortstop Aledmys Diaz on his approach at the plate
Diaz learned Saturday his 30 hits in April tied Albert Pujols for the club record.
“That’s pretty cool, being mentioned in the same sentence with Pujols,” Diaz said. “Pujols has had a long career and has been successful in the big leagues. I’m very happy for that.”
Diaz will ride his surge as long as possible.
“I know it’s pretty tough to keep hitting this way, performing this way,” he said. “But you always can prepare yourself to be ready for the game.”
Defensively, Diaz has struggled at times and he leads the Cardinals with five errors. But he’s been error-free in seven games since April 23.
“That’s what happens when you’ve got a chance to play more days,” Diaz said. “You start getting comfortable, you get used to the runners in the big leagues and you start to slow down the game a little bit.”
Grichuk’s slump continues
Center fielder Randal Grichuk was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in the loss Sunday as his slump reached 0-for-20. Grichuk is batting .179.
“I feel like I found some mechanical flaws that were happening in the past week,” Grichuk said. “We’ve been trying to iron that out the last couple of days. So hopefully, it sticks soon.”
Grichuk endured a 1-for-14 skid early in the season.
“The beginning of the year was more mental and more just (not) seeing the ball,” Grichuk said. “I think now is a little bit of mechanical (issues). I feel like I’ve had some good at-bats as of late. I’m just missing balls. I think the key is laying off balls out of the zone. I’ve done a good job of that lately. Hopefully, I’ll start hitting mistakes.”
Three of Grichuk’s at-bats were against Max Scherzer (3-1), who worked seven scoreless innings and struck out nine to earn the win.
“He had everything working,” Grichuk said. “He was hitting his spots, painting the corners, painting in and out, up and down. There wasn’t much we could do about it.”
One National who was held hitless in the series was Bryce Harper, the Most Valuable Player in the National League last season. Harper was 0-for-11 with five strikeouts, including four Sunday.
“We knew coming in that Harper’s been hot and has been very productive,” Matheny said. “But they’ve got quite a few guys that can hurt you. It was nice to keep Harper at bay, but they had plenty of other guys who could do damage.”
Phillies on deck
Surprising Philadadelphia invades Busch Stadium on Monday for the opener of a four-game series. The Cardinals have not yet played the Phillies (15-10) this season.
The Phillies began Sunday ranked next-to-last in the National League in runs, but their pitching staff is first in strikeouts and shutouts and fifth in ERA.
The pitching matchups: Adam Wainwright (1-3, 7.16 ERA) vs. Jeremy Hellickson (2-1, 3.81 ERA), 7:15 p.m. Monday; Michael Wacha (2-1, 3.07 ERA) vs. Aaron Nola (1-2, 3.55 ERA), 7:15 p.m. Tuesday; Mike Leake (0-3, 5.83 ERA) vs. Adam Morgan (0-0, 5.40 ERA), 7:15 p.m. Wednesday; and Jaime Garcia (1-2, 3.73 ERA) vs. Jerad Eickhoff (1-3, 4.15 ERA), 12:45 p.m. Thursday.