ST. LOUIS -- It's unlikely Jaime Garcia will pitch again in 2013. But that isn't stopping the left-hander from aiming for that goal as he rehabs from May shoulder surgery.
"I'm not killing the chance that there might be an opportunity that I can pitch somewhere, sometime this year and at least I have that in my mind," Garcia said. "If it comes October, they shut me down, I go home, then [at least] it helped me get through this part of the process."
If the team weren't locked in a tight pennant race and in position for a postseason run, Garcia's mind might be focused on the offseason, but as long as the Cardinals are in the thick of it, he's pushing himself for a return.
"It's kind of giving me that extra motivation I need for this year," Garcia said. "I'm taking this thing one day at a time, [but] it makes it a little bit easier when these guys are doing what they're doing right now."
Monday marks another progressive step in Garcia's rehab as it's the first time he will throw without a scheduled number of pitches or set distance.
"Tomorrow is just a long-toss day, play catch, [see how it feels] and then progress," Garcia said. "It would be a lot better if I was out there with my team, helping them, but you know, it's one of those things where I'm doing everything that's in my control right now to be able to come back for good this time."
Perez sees first big league action
ST. LOUIS -- In the eighth inning of Sunday's 12-2 win over the Mariners, manager Mike Matheny had cleared his bench, allowing an eager Audry Perez an opportunity to make his Major League debut.
The 24-year-old catcher from the Dominican Republic replaced Yadier Molina to start the eighth, and caught former Minor League teammates Trevor Rosenthal and Sam Freeman for two scoreless innings.
"I was happy, surprised," Perez said. "My first time catching, but I was ready because I caught Rosenthal at Double-A in 2012 and Freeman this year [at Triple-A]. I felt comfortable, I felt good."
After five seasons in the Minors, Perez earned his first big league call up, joining the Cardinals from Triple-A Memphis on Sept. 3.
Wong adjusting to new role off Cards' bench
ST. LOUIS -- Before this year, Kolten Wong could count the number of times he had pinch-hit on one hand.
But now, as part of the Cardinals' bench, the 22-year-old second baseman is pinch-hitting regularly, though he's yet to see the kind of results expected from a player who hit .301 through three years in the Minors.
"It's a different animal," Wong said. "I've never done it in my entire career, so coming up and being put in this situation, it's something that's been a learning process and something that's really been a key for me to learn how to adjust."
Wong snapped an 0-for-16 skid Sunday, recording his first hit at Busch Stadium and first as a pinch-hitter.
"I knew it was going to happen, it was just a matter of time," Wong said. "Going out there day-in, day-out not getting a hit was frustrating but now that it's out of the way, I can kind of relax a little. But I've still got a lot of work to do."
Wong arrived in the big leagues to split time with third baseman David Freese. The Cardinals often employed Wong against right-handed pitching, sliding Matt Carpenter over from second to third base when Wong replaced Freese in the lineup. But with Wong's struggles at the plate -- he's hit .163 (8-for-49) since his Aug. 16 debut -- that platoon situation has vanished, with Freese resuming his role as an everyday player and Wong being relegated to the bench.
"I don't want to make excuses," Wong said. "It's a tough situation, but then again, I was brought up here knowing that Matt Carpenter is up here. He's been doing amazing, and you know, I knew for a fact that I wasn't going to be an everyday starter knowing that he's here. Just coming up here and getting a chance to watch him play and watch all these guys play, that's all I can ask for right now."
Wong's offensive potential has yet to follow him from the Minors to the big leagues, but manager Mike Matheny doesn't intend to shy away from using him off the bench.
"We're going to continue to throw him in there, because we know there's some serious offensive potential there," Matheny said. "When we need somebody to get on base and cause some havoc, he's a guy that can do that."
Bullpen's depth keeping relievers fresh, on their toes
ST. LOUIS -- September callups have given the Cardinals added bullpen depth, but in some cases, that depth has relievers going through longer layoffs between appearances than usual.
Tyler Lyons pitched for the first time Saturday since Sept. 4, tossing 2 2/3 innings and surrendering a two-run homer.
"It's been a little while, but you do what you can in between to kind of be ready when you're called upon," Lyons said. "You still do the same thing in between and work on stuff and try to keep everything sharp. It's a little adjustment, but you know, I felt fine so that's all that matters."
The adjustment is particularly jarring for a player like Lyons or Jake Westbrook, who are used to taking the mound every five days as a starter, but for a regular reliever, it's just the nature of the job.
"One thing I've noticed about being in the bullpen from my experience, there's no routine as far as set time," Sam Freeman said. "You don't really know actually, unless you're a closer, when you're going in and when you're not."
Freeman, who hasn't pitched since Sept. 8, warmed up during Saturday's game, but never entered it.
"I just try to just always stay ready," he said. "Then whenever that call does come it doesn't ever catch you off guard. There's more guys, there's more options, that just means you have to stay more prepared for whenever your name is called."
• Injured first baseman Allen Craig will not travel with the team to Colorado next week. Matheny said Craig can get more rehab work done in St. Louis. When asked how he measures Craig's absence in the Cardinals lineup, Matheny simply said he doesn't try to.
"I don't think that's fair to these guys," he said. "I don't think it's fair to Matt Adams or Carlos [Beltran] hitting in the four-spot. We've got a good enough lineup. Would we like to have Allen available and part of it? Sure. But that's not where we are."
• Yadier Molina was in an 0-for-15 slump heading into Sunday afternoon's games against the Mariners.
"The bulk of the season, he's been so good," Matheny said. "A couple setbacks, but we're also seeing some balls hit real hard. … To me, it's only a matter of time before that fixes itself."
• The Cardinals need a win against Seattle on Sunday to conclude Interleague Play with a .500 record. Saturday's loss dropped them to 9-10 versus American League teams this season.
Chad Thornburg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.