Loss of Wacha, Garcia sobering for St. Louis Cardinals

Posted by Scott Wuerz on June 22, 2014 

In case people have forgotten one of the most thoroughly time-tested baseball cliches, the St. Louis Cardinals have sent out a not-so-friendly reminder that there is no such things as having too much pitching.

While we were all feeling warm and fuzzy about a come from behind win over the Philadephia Phillies, the Redbirds killed the buzz with the announcement that not one -- but two -- of their starting pitchers were headed to the disabled list with shoulder trouble.

The victims are Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia.

I mentioned a few days ago, when the Cardinals announced that Wacha would be skipped on Sunday for the purpose of giving him some extra rest, that I smelled something fishy. Carlos Martinez was given a spot start in place of Adam Wainwright last week. Then St. Louis decided to give him a second start in place of Wacha, effectively stretching out the young hurler in order to transition him from the bullpen to the rotation. 

Now we know why. What we don't is know how serious the pitchers' problems are. Garcia has had a number of problems with his shoulder for the last couple of years. Frankly, I wasn't counting on him. Anything he has been able to provide is a bonus and I'm not surprised to see him break down based on his history.

Garcia has been very good early in his starts. But then he suddenly hit a wall and fell apart. At first it seemed that maybe he just needed to build his endurance. But as it continued it became obvious that his shoulder was flaring up and becoming sore as he got deeper into games. I still think, as I said upon his return, that I think Garcia's future might be limited to relief work to limit the stress on his arm.

It's very scary to see Wacha, the shining star of the future St. Louis rotation, having shoulder troubles. Doctors routinely fix elbow with Tommy John surgery these days. But shoulders are a much trickier thing. Chris Carpenter had one shoulder injury that made him available to the Cardinals when the Toronto Blue Jays gave up on him. He came back with flying colors -- eventually. But his second major shoulder issue eventually ended his career.

Matt Morris was greatly diminished because of shoulder troubles. Alan Benes shoulder ruined his career. And Garcia has never been able to get things back to normal after his shoulder problem.

The Cardinals are soft selling the issue, as is their norm. They claim that Wacha doesn't require surgery, although they admit that he's probably going to be out "a few weeks." When the club says Joe Kelly is going to miss a start or two and he misses two months, it makes me wonder how bad things might be when they say a player is going to be out several weeks halfway through the season.

I talked to a physical therapist about the injury, described as stress to Wacha's scapula. And I am assured that the problem shouldn't affect the integrity of his shoulder joint. But the muscles that attach to the scapula are a complex network that can take a long time to sort out if there is a problem.

We might be in a situation where the Redbirds would be fortunate to get Wacha back and tuned up in time for potential playoff games. But you simply can't take a chance with a pitcher's shoulder. By pushing things too quickly, a minor problem could easily become a serious, permanent problem.

On the bright side, the Cardinals seem to have Carlos Martinez to the point where he can be reasonably expected to throw 80 plus pitches. Besides a rough second inning Tuesday in which a Phillies rally started with a free hit against a defensive shift and then Martinez created more trouble with a hit batter and a walk, he pitched very well.

After a double cleared the bases in the second, he got out of the inning without additional trouble and then threw three more scoreless frames. He struck out five and allowed no more walks.

So, hopefully, Martinez will be able to capably fill one of the rotation spots.

Mozeliak said Kelly is nearly ready for a return as well. The Cardinals will likely have to employ a fill in starter for at least one game. But, hopefully, Kelly can come back healthy and pitch like he did before the injury when he was 1-1 through three starts with an 0.59 ERA. 

 

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