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St. Louis Cardinals’ Pena about to force tough roster move

The St. Louis Cardinals are going to have to make a decision very soon about backup catcher Brayan Pena.

And it’s not going to be an easy one.

Pena, who has missed the entire season so far with a knee injury that required surgery, was supposed to give the Redbirds a threatening bench bat and a serviceable backup who would allow starter Yadier Molina to take more days off.

Molina could definitely use the break. A little more than a third of the way through the 2016 season, he’s already amassed nearly half the at-bats he had in 2015.

The problem is that Pena, who is near the end of his 20-day rehab assignment in the minors -- has been terrible. Meanwhile, the guy who played in his place, Eric Fryer, has been solid at the plate and even better beside it with a .406 average in limited duty.

Do the Redbirds ship off Fryer to make room for a guy who has hit .179 in 11 games between Class AA and Class AAA? Or do they pull the plug on Pena, a guy they signed as a free agent, without ever giving him a chance to see what he can do in the majors?

A third option might be to keep three catchers and send out someone else.

But who is that going to be?

Greg Garcia is probably the lowest-ranking position player on the roster with 50 plate appearances this season. But he’s a valuable utility player on the infield and has hit every chance he’s had.

Kolten Wong is fresh off a recall from the minors and is apparently going to split his time between second base and centerfield. But I don’t know what there is to prove by sending him back to Memphis.

I guess the Cardinals could send Tommy Pham back. But he also got a rough break with an injury on opening day and has only had six plate appearances this season to make his case.

Besides, Pham is filling Randal Grichuk’s roster spot. I think the Cardinals need to hope that the slugging centerfielder reclaims his spot soon if the team is going to have a chance to get its season together.

I don’t see a bullpen pitcher being sent away to make room for a position player with how heavy the relievers’ work load has been this season.

I guess the positive is that the Cardinals can make whatever move they opt for a temporary one. No one has to be released to make room for Pena, just temporarily demoted until performance or an injury makes the roster picture more clear.

But the Birds have been barely getting by with the roster they have. So it’s tough to imagine potentially losing a player who has contributed to the overall package.