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Wainwright could be lost for the season

Cardinals co-ace Adam Wainwright has an elbow problem.

Although he didn't come out and say that he requires Tommy John surgery, general manager John Mozeliak seemed to imply it Wednesday morning on a report on KMOX.

Mozeliak said Wainwright hurt the elbow, which gave him problems in the past, while throwing one of his last pitches during his first live batting practice session of the spring. He added that the Cardinals will look both inside and outside of the organization for a replacement.

That doesn't sound like Mozeliak thinks Wainwright is going to be back any time soon.

There are still a few serviceable pitchers on the free agent market. Kevin Millwood just turned down a minor league contract offer from the Yankees. He had a terrible 4-16 record with a 5.10 ERA with 1.51 baserunners allowed per inning pitched. But he logged a durable 190 innings. In 2009, he won 13 games with a 3.67 ERA while pitching with the Rangers.

Obviously, Millwood would be more of a fifth starter than a replacement for the St. Louis co-ace. But the Cardinals aren't going to find a pitcher of Wainwright's quality at this point. And, if they did find one, they couldn't afford the cost in players or cash.

Yesterday I wrote that the Cardinals needed Kyle Lohse to be the pitcher he used to be to give the rest of the rotation a break. Now the Redbirds need him to be 2008 vintage Kyle Lohse just to keep the club's collective head above water. If Lohse has a repeat of 2009 or 2010, the Cardinals will be in the same sinking boat in which they found themselves last year when they faced the bulk of the season with 40 percent of their rotation out of commission.

Internal candidates for the job would include Ian Snell, who was 0-5 with a 6.41 ERA in eight starts last season with the Mariners; Miguel Bautista started 20 games for the Mariners in 2008 and was 4-14 with a 6.26 ERA. The Cardinals seem to have him penciled in for a righty slot in the bullpen. Kyle McClellan has been a rotation candidate in the past, but the Cardinals seem to have written that plan off in 2011.

I hope the Cardinals can come up with a suitable plan B. Part of the equation of being able to bring Albert Pujols is for the St. Louis slugger to be convinced he is part of chance to win here. It could leave a bad taste in Albert's mouth at the wrong time to see the Birds struggle through another season like they did in 2010.

The injury also clouds Wainwright's contract status. His option, which seemed to vest when he was a finalist for the Cy Young Award last season, has an opt out for the club if he finishes the 2011 season on the disabled list. That seems to be a certainty at this point.