A team not blessed with tremendous power will have to survive without one of its top home run-hitters until at least the first week of September.
Center fielder Randal Grichuk was placed on the St. Louis Cardinals’ 15-day disabled list with a strained right elbow. Grichuk, who is batting .284 with 15 homers and 44 RBIs in 85 games, suffered the injury in a 6-4 loss to the Miami Marlins on Sunday.
Tests on Grichuk on Monday also revealed a low-grade ligament strain.
“I kind of felt it Saturday throwing a bit,” Grichuk said Monday afternoon. “Sunday in the first inning, trying to throw Dee (Gordon) out at home, I felt it pull a little bit. I made three or four more throws in the game and it kept pulling and pulling and pulling.”
Grichuk said he decided to tell the Cardinals about the discomfort in the seventh inning Sunday when he threw behind Derek Dietrich, who singled and fell to the dirt on his way to second before retreating safely to first.
“Dietrich, the ball up the middle where he slipped trying to go to second, I threw back to first, and it was like, ‘Hey, something’s not right. Maybe I should say something,’ and I did,” Grichuk said. “They got me out before it could get any worse than it is.”
The Cardinals recalled center fielder Tommy Pham from Class AAA Memphis. Pham, 27, was batting .327 with 10 doubles, six home runs and 39 RBIs in for the Redbirds.
Grichuk said the injury doe not bother him when he swings the bat, but the Cardinals weren’t enamored with the idea of keeping Grichuk active just to serve as a pinch-hitter.
“To my knowledge, right now we’re shutting down everything,” Grichuk said. “That’s what they’re worried about with staying active and being on the bench, swinging through a changeup or something and popping it. We’ll go day by day the next few days.
“It’s very frustrating. I felt like I was swinging (the bat) well; I felt good at the plate. For this to come, to miss some time, it’s frustrating.”
Grichuk’s injury is one more likely to occur to a pitcher.
“Our biggest concern right now is the muscle strain,” Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak said. “The overall ligament probably looks like a lot of pitcher and position-player elbows, so we’re not overly concerned with that. But short-term, you’ve got to let the muscle heal. Otherwise, I do think you expose the ligament to possible greater risk.”
Jason Heyward started in center for Grichuk on Monday against San Francisco, with Stephen Piscotty taking over Heyward’s normal spot in right. Piscotty, who has been the first baseman, was replaced by Mark Reynolds, while newcomer Brandon Moss played left.
“I think this gives us an opportunity to use Moss every day, too, and Reynolds has been doing well,” Mozeliak said. “These things are never great, but it’s part of the game.”
A bigger part of the game than the Cardinals prefer. They already were without right-hander Adam Wainwright, relievers Jordan Walden and Matt Belisle, left fielder Matt Holliday, first baseman Matt Adams and center fielder Jon Jay.
“I think the ups and downs that this club has experienced over the last few years, everybody sort of looks at when something bad happens, it creates opportunity for someone else,” Mozeliak said. “As you’ve seen, people have taken advantage of it.
“I can tell you from my seat, I prefer not to see the injuries, but it is part of the game. A lot of times, it’s a statement on your year on how you handle those.”
Mozeliak said Grichuk could be sidelined 20 days. When Grichuk returns, Mozeliak said one way to protect his elbow is to have the shortstop move deeper into the outfield on cutoff plays, taking away long throws from Grichuk that could aggravate the injury.
“Short-term, this is in his best interests, to let it quiet down,” Mozeliak said.
Grichuk has had an injury-riddled career. Even before the Cardinals acquired him from the Los Angeles Angels two offseasons ago, Gruchuk had suffered a torn ligament in his thumb, a fractured kneecap and a broken wrist.
In April, Grichuk strained his lower back and was placed on the disabled list. On Thursday, Grichuk said he was dealing with a sore foot.
Is Grichuk a fragile player?
“I think that’s a fair question and it’s one I would have to go back and look at in its totality,” Mozeliak said. “But I think overall, when playing, he’s a special player. In terms of thinking about him as more injury-prone than others, I don’t know that answer for sure. But unfortunately, he has missed time and he’s going to miss more.”
Despite the number of injuries the Cardinals have had this season, manager Mike Matheny doesn’t necessarily believe different training and stretching programs are needed.
“We’re realizing that injuries happen,” Matheny said. “There have been thousands of throws in these guys’ arms. We’re not looking to place blame. We’re looking at one position player (Grichuk) having an issue with his arm.
“We’re looking at always being proactive to see if there’s anything we can do differently. But for the most part, injuries are going to happen. When they happen, we have to get them fixed and prevent them from ever happening again.”