St. Louis Cardinals' Yadier Molina, center, is checked on by manager Mike Matheny, right, and trainer Chris Conroy after injuring his hand while sliding into third during the second inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates Wednesday, July 9, 2014, in St. Louis. Molina finished the inning but was replaced in the third inning by Tony Cruz. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
ST. LOUIS — St. Louis Cardinals All-Star catcher Yadier Molina will undergo surgery Friday to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb and could miss the rest of the season.
The team estimated Molina could be sidelined eight to 12 weeks. He's hoping to make it back in seven or eight weeks.
"I almost cried," Molina said before Thursday night's game against the Pirates.
"Mentally, it's so frustrating. You play hard for something to happen like that, it's bad."
Molina got the news Thursday morning, three days from his 32nd birthday. The Cardinals left Busch Stadium Wednesday night prepared for the worst news and minor league call-up Audry Perez was already on the way.
General manager John Mozeliak said he'd be on the lookout for a "stopgap" solution.
For now, backup Tony Cruz is the starter for the defending National League champions who've had a rash of serious injuries recently.
Lefty Jaime Garcia also will undergo season-ending thoracic outlet surgery Friday to relieve nerve pain and numbness and right-hander Michael Wacha is on the 15-day disabled list indefinitely with a stress fracture in his pitching shoulder.
Manager Mike Matheny said it's important for the players to just keep going. The first step, he said, would be to consider the series finale against the Pirates as a day off for Molina.
"I'm going to continue to scream at the top of my lungs that this is an opportunity for us to step up, all of us," Matheny said. "The great players, the great teams, take this stuff and figure out a way to get it done."
Molina was injured Wednesday when he planted his hand for balance after sliding feet-first into third base in the second inning. He caught another half-inning before Cruz hit for him in the third.
The slide was the same as it's always been, except for one critical difference.
"This time," he said, "my thumb got stuck in the dirt."
Molina said it would take five weeks for the thumb to heal after surgery and then he'd begin a rehab program. Matheny said the team had to formulate a rehab plan.
Perez was recalled from Triple-A Memphis and will be the backup behind Cruz, who totaled 51 at-bats the first 92 games with a .255 average and eight RBIs and also is a strong defender.
"I've got 100 percent confidence, I have no doubt he can do it," Molina said. "Tony's smart, he's a good player, a good hitter, a good catcher."
Molina was voted to his sixth straight NL All-Star team Sunday and is a starter for the fourth time. He was hitting .287 with seven homers and 30 RBIs and led the major leagues by throwing out 47 percent of attempted base stealers along with three pickoffs.
He has been extremely durable, averaging 135 games the past six seasons. He missed two weeks with a sprained knee last season.
Now, he'll be an adviser and unofficial cheerleader for the defending National League champions.
"I will be in the dugout, I'll be with the team," Molina said. "I'm part of the team."
The 27-year-old Cruz has been a backup the past four years with 12 starts this season. He had 28 starts both in 2013 and 2012.
The 25-year-old Perez was batting .288 with two homers and 11 RBIs in 44 games at Memphis and threw out 29 percent of base stealers. He played in two major league games last season with one at-bat.