ST. LOUIS — St. Louis Cardinals closer Jason Motte has a ligament tear in his right elbow and could be headed for season-ending Tommy John surgery.
Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak said Motte, who underwent an MRI and ultrasound on the elbow Tuesday morning, will rest until May 1 before the team makes a determination about surgery.
"The best thing for him right now is rest," Mozeliak said. "If he's not able to throw (May 1), then surgery is certainly an option at that point. We'll take the next three weeks and see how things progress.
"If he's able to improve and start a throwing program, then he'll move forward with that. If not, obviously, the early part of May, he'll undergo surgery."
Motte isn't yet counting out a return this season, and he is hopeful he won't have to undergo a procedure.
"It has been getting better over the last couple of weeks," Motte said, citing the stretching and strengthening exercises that were prescribed. "We're going to keep that process going. I'm still optimistic; I'm still hoping. If they get back from this (next) road trip and I can do everything normal, without pain, we'll be good to go."
Motte already was on the disabled list after previous tests on his elbow revealed a strained flexor tendon. The tests Tuesday determined a more significant injury, which didn't surprise the Cardinals considering the elbow had not improved.
"At this point, it's still a low-grade tear, but he is symptomatic and therefore not cleared to throw," Mozeliak said. "I think the difference between now and when he was first evaluated was he was dealing with the flexor as well. There was inflammation on that and we just didn't have a clear view of what we were able to see today."
Mozeliak said Motte's flexor tendon strain is "resolved," but that's hardly good news considering the torn ligament.
"Realistically, we want to be optimistic with this, but we also have to understand that now we are talking about surgery, which three weeks ago, that was not something we felt was on the table."
Typically, Tommy John surgery requires a 12- to- 14-month rehabilitation for a pitcher, so the Cardinals are aware that the longer Motte waits for surgery, the more time he will miss in 2014. Thus, setting a May 1 deadline made sense.
"Timing does matter," Mozeliak said. "The longer this drags out, you're really starting to just multiply what's going to happen in next year's season as far as missed time. We don't want that to be something where this ends up being a July or August situation."
Mitchell Boggs has served as the replacement closer for Motte, who recorded 42 saves last season. But Boggs already has one blown save and allowed seven runs (six earned) in the ninth inning Monday when the Reds scored nine to win 13-4.
Trevor Rosenthal, Boggs' setup man, allowed one eighth-inning run and Marc Rzepczynski, who relieved Boggs, allowed two runs.
If Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has decided to make changes in his late-inning system, he wasn't showing his hand Tuesday.
"Nothing that we're drawing up ahead of time," Matheny said before learning about the extent of Motte's injury. "We'll just kind of see how the game goes. I do know that we have faith in these guys, and the only way you can prove your faith to them is to give them opportunities.
"We continue to watch every and just see how the game plays out."
One possibility would be to move Fernando Salas to the closer's role. Salas led the Cardinals in saves with 24 in 2011, but his ERA is 8.10. Only Boggs (14.54) and Joe Kelly (9.82) have higher ERAs. Rzepczynski and Choate are not closer material, and Rosenthal isn't yet suited for the role with just 23 big-league games.
"Salas led this team two years ago in saves. We know that," Matheny said. "He's a guy we're going to continue to use in a variety of different roles, however we can.
"He's not a real vocal guy to share a lot of the things he's learned from his days of closing. As we try to figure this thing out and get our bullpen going right, we're going to need everybody pulling in the same direction, and that includes Fernando Salas."
Mozeliak acknowledged that Motte's absence for the long term would create additional stress on the bullpen, but that he won't make a knee-jerk move to address it.
"I think it's a little premature to start dealing with that," Mozeliak said. "Obviously, the season just began and teams are sorting themselves out. We're one of them. As far as how the manager handles the bullpen, I know tonight everyone's available. Clearly, we hope for better success than what we saw yesterday.
"When you thought about how we planned this offseason, we felt pretty good about our ninth, eighth and seventh innings. Now we're going to have to reshuffle a little bit. ... Clearly, when you lose your closer, it's not easy shoes to fill."
Matheny said pitching the ninth inning "is different."
"A lot of guys who have been successful at it have also had struggles," he said. "It's just that balance of going out there and trying to figure out who gives our team that best chance.
"Part of that job of pitching the ninth is the extra attention that's put on it. It's not a secret to these guys. There's a process to figuring it out. I was quick to let Mitchell know that we have a lot of confidence in him. This club needs him --whatever role it's going to be."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.