Yadier Molina has a torn ligament in his right thumb and could miss eight to 12 weeks after he has surgery on Friday, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak announced Thursday.
There are only 11 full weeks - including All-Star week - remaining in the 2014 season.
"When I felt it right away I knew there was something wrong with it," Molina said, referencing how the thumb bent awkwardly during his slide Wednesday night. "Didn't feel good. ... It's bad. It's a bad feeling. You want to be here. You want to be there with the team playing. It's just a bad feeling."
Audry Perez has been called up from Class AAA Memphis to replace the six-time All-Star on the active roster, and will assume the role of backup behind Tony Cruz for the foreseeable future.
This will be the fourth career disabled-list stint for Molina, who has averaged 135.5 games played over the past six seasons. He missed two weeks with a sprained knee in 2013, but before that spent six years without a trip to the DL.
The Cardinals will spend the next week exploring the market for catchers, including potential trades. Two veteran catchers were recently designated for assignment and are now free agents - Seattle's John Buck and Boston's A.J. Pierzynski. Of the two, Buck is more appealing to the Cardinals because of his reputation and experience behind the plate.
The Cardinals do intend to give Cruz an extended look at starter.
"The game doesn't stop," Mozeliak said. "It's unfortunate when you lose a player of his skill set; it's tough. ... I think from a standpoint of trying to replace him, that's just not even a logical question. What you're doing is you need to find a stopgap. We have a lot of confidence in Cruz. That is why he is our backup."
Molina's current injury occurred just as the up-and-down Cardinals were reaching a season-high eight games over .500 and climbing to only two games back of division-leading Milwaukee.
Molina jammed his thumb on a feet-first slide into third base in the second inning Wednesday night. He took off from second base to third after Pedro Alvarez fielded a ground ball and fired across the diamond.
Molina caught the Pirates sleeping, and beat Ike Davis' return throw across the diamond from first base. But he dragged his right hand across the dirt and base on his way in.
The attempt to brace himself backfired - and now it is known that it backfired badly.
Molina stayed in to run after being checked out by a trainer, and caught the top of the next inning before being pinch hit for by Tony Cruz.
Manager Mike Matheny said Wednesday that Molina wanted to stay in the game after having his hand taped, but that "any time we have to take him out, it's pretty bad."