ST. LOUIS — Completing a 7-3 homestand with an impressive 5-3, come-from-behind victory over the Phillies on Sunday afternoon, the Cardinals looked primed and poised to make their toughest trip of the season.
But before the team buses even pulled away from Busch Stadium, the Cardinals were dealing with the most adversity they have encountered all season.
Two-fifths of their NL-leading rotation has landed on the disabled list with shoulder issues and no one has any idea when either will return.
The shocker was the loss of Michael Wacha with a "stress reaction" in his right shoulder. Lefty Jaime Garcia had pitched well after a delayed start to his season, but he has spent so much of the past three years dealing with shoulder issues that another trip to the DL can’t be considered much of a surprise.
General manager John Mozeliak delivered the disappointing news minutes after manager Mike Matheny had finished his postgame comments to the media.
"We don’t know what’s coming," Mozeliak said. "We’re putting two pitchers on the DL. I’m not in a position to know when or how they’ll return, or the effectiveness of how they’ll return."
Mozeliak labeled the Wacha development "shocking" even though the club had skipped his scheduled start Sunday to "bank" some innings for the stretch run. They did, however, have Wacha undergo a CT scan and MRI the other day and learned the results Saturday.
"It’s tightness," said Wacha, who added that he has been dealing with the issue for the past four or five starts. "It takes longer to warm up and get loose. I’m just resting right now and will continue to get stronger, build up the muscles around it. Hopefully, it gets better quick."
Mozeliak said surgery is not a consideration with this type of injury. "What it is is probably going to require some time, but I don’t know what that means today," he said.
Mozeliak added that he considers a stress reaction less serious than a fracture. "Whenever you hear the word fracture, it sounds much larger," he said. "At this point, they don’t feel it’s necessarily that. It could become that."
Wacha will be shut down from throwing for "a couple of weeks" before being re-evaluated, Mozeliak said.
The situation will be similar for Garcia, who shut out the Phillies for four innings Friday night but then allowed five runs over the next two innings. Garcia tried to throw his bullpen session Sunday but "it did not go well," Mozeliak said. He had gone 3-1 with a 4.12 ERA in seven starts since making his season debut after shoulder surgery ended his 2013 season last May.
The Cardinals can take some consolation in that they have more pitching depth than most, if not all, teams to withstand such losses. Carlos Martinez, who made his second "substitution" start Sunday, will stay in the rotation, with his next turn scheduled for Friday.
Mozeliak said the club likely would decide Sunday night who will make Garcia’s scheduled start Wednesday at Colorado. It won’t be right-hander Joe Kelly, who is inching closer to a return from a hamstring injury that has kept him out of the rotation since mid-April. Kelly is scheduled to make the first of what figures to be at least two rehab starts Friday for Memphis. If all goes well, he could join the rotation during the next homestand, which begins July 4.
Before then, the Cardinals have three games at Colorado, four at Los Angeles and three at San Francisco. "We have our hands full," Matheny said.
With a rotation that, all of a sudden, is decidedly not.
— Martinez, the starter. The 22-year-old right-hander worked his way past one trouble spot and went on to earn his first win of the season with a five-inning outing that took 74 pitches. Twenty-nine of those came in the second, when the Phillies scored all three of their runs.
But even in that inning, Martinez was victimized as much by bad luck as lousy location. The only hard-hit ball was a bases-loaded double by Cody Asche. After that hit, Martinez retired 12 of the final 13 batters he faced, allowing only an infield single to Ryan Howard with two out in the third. Martinez struck out Cameron Rupp with a 100-mph fastball to end the fourth.
— Mark Ellis. In his first game since rookie Kolten Wong went on the disabled list, the veteran second baseman gave the Cardinals the lead with a safety squeeze that scored Jon Jay with the fourth run of the fourth. Ellis added a run-scoring single in the sixth to complete the scoring for both teams.
"With Kolten out, we’re going to need him to step up and play the kind of baseball he has in the past," Matheny said. "This is a winning player. This is a guy who has done it for a long time."
— Nick Greenwood. The rookie lefty is pitching like he wants to stay in the majors for a while and with Martinez staying in the rotation, Greenwood has his chance. He made the most of another key opportunity when he was the first reliever in for the Cardinals and allowed only a one-out walk to Howard in the sixth.
— Matt Holliday. Moving into the two-hole from his customary third spot in the order did not do much for Holliday, who went 0 for 4. The decision did not hurt the Cardinals, though. Matt Adams collected two hits out of the three-hole and started the fourth-run fourth inning with a double off the center-field wall.
Matheny made the batting order change mainly because Holliday entered Sunday tied for the team lead in OBP at .376 while his slugging percentage sits at a career-low .388. Holliday has had some success hitting second. In 10 games out of the two-hole in 2010, he hit .400/.442/.850 with five homers.
— Matt Carpenter. He ended an 0-for-10 slide with a seventh-inning single before he was thrown out trying to steal second. Carpenter went 5 for 30 (.183) on the homestand, though he walked four times. His batting average dropped to .281 from .294 on the homestand.
— Stolen bases. The Cardinals finished the homestand with a total of one, which was one less than how many times they were caught stealing Sunday. Carpenter was caught trying to steal second after a leadoff single in the seventh, and Jhonny Peralta was caught after a leadoff walk in the eighth. With 28 steals for the season, the Cardinals are next to last in the NL with just one more than the Marlins.