In 2004, at the height of her talk show's popularity, Oprah Winfrey stood in front of a studio audience and began handing out the goods. "You get a car! And you get a car! And you get a car!"
After last night, the Cardinals can only feel like their attending the worst taping of the Oprah show imaginable -- which would still be better than the best taping of a Jay Leno show -- as John Gast was the latest to receive his injury. "Chris Carpenter gets an injury. Jaime Garcia gets an injury. Jake Westbrook gets an injury. Carpenter gets another injury. And Gast gets an injury!"
It started, of course, before the season began when Chris Carpenter announced that he would no longer be pitching given his physical state. The Cardinals had a reasonable path to deal with that as Shelby Miller claimed the fifth spot in the rotation.
Jaime Garcia got off to a reasonable start for the season. The rest and rehab from the offseason gave way to the fact that labrums don't heal themselves under the consistent and prolonged stress of pitching on a regular basis. So Garcia finds his way to Dr. James Andrews again. John Gast gets the first callup from the minors to an open rotation spot.
This week, what was originally supposed to be a short stint on the disabled list, found Westbrook looking for a second opinion after his setback. Enter Dr. Andrews:
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said that Westbrook, who took a step back in his bid to return from an elbow injury, would be seeing another doctor, Dr. James Andrews, as the club tries to solve Westbrook’s problem. General manager John Mozeliak confirmed that meeting would be on Tuesday.
Matheny said Westbrook’s idling is "not a large concern. We know how tough he is. But he hasn’t felt right all season. He’s got an old elbow (Westbrook has had two previous elbow surgeries) and he’s had a lot of work on it. We kind of went into the season expecting some (problems), but when it looks a little more magnified, we stop and try to figure out what can possibly be done."
The Cardinals can deal with the Westbrook injury as well. After all, they'd already granted Tyler Lyons a start that went emphatically well. On top of that Chris Carpenter had been rehabbing through a miraculous healing of being Carpenter. That process, however, has slowed after Carpenter's latest setback.
"He's been working fast and last time didn't feel as good," manager Mike Matheny said. "The first few times [he threw off the mound] it was like, 'I feel great. I feel great.' Then this time, it was like, 'I feel like I've done more work.' That's just an [indication] that we need to slow down a little bit."
Though not deemed a significant setback -- at least as much as any setback isn't significant for a pitcher as old as Carpenter -- it makes clear that Carpenter's availability will be something to be pleasantly surprised by rather than something to count on.
Which brings us to the Cardinals game last night against the Dodgers. Two innings into his start last night, John Gast left the game with shoulder discomfort.
As for Gast, the Cardinals did not speculate on the severity of the shoulder injury that forced him from the game after facing six batters on Saturday. Gast described his shoulder as "tight and weak," adding that he had never felt that type of discomfort in the back part of his shoulder.
If there's a positive to take away from last night, it's probably that the Cardinals bullpen managed to absorb 7 innings of baseball without looking terrible. It also seemed to display the normal culprits of the bullpen (Joe Kelly and Mitchell Boggs were responsible for the bullpen's only earned runs). But the Cardinals clearly find themselves in some tight straits.
The Cardinals also indicated that they are likely to make a roster move prior to Sunday's game to supplement the bullpen. Those options are numerous if not compelling: RHP Eric Fornataro, Victor Marte, LHP Marc Rzepczynski, Sam Freeman and Kevin Siegrist to name a few. Arguably the more interesting question is how the Gast injury impacts the Cardinals long term planning for this season.
- Are the Cardinals ready to break the glass and call up Michael Wacha? Wacha is the highest rated pitching prospect still in the system and he's pitching at AAA. His performance has been tepid but his MLB projection remains that of a front of the rotation pitcher. The question is when that MLB career begins more than if that MLB career begins.
- Are the Cardinals ready to recharge the Memphis rotation? After Wacha the Memphis rotation consists of Maikel Cleto, Boone Whiting, Nick Additon and Scott McGregor. It's not exactly a star-studded list -- though I've long been a Whiting believer -- and the Cardinals have poached heavily to improve their major league bullpen. This might be an opportunity to restock by sending a reliever down to stretch out. Joe Kelly, Seth Maness and Carlos Martinez all began the year as starters. Trevor Rosenthal, though seemingly locked in the 8th inning role, would be yet another option to stretch out.
- Who is the dark horse to benefit from all this? Given the depth the Cardinals have immediately available to them in Memphis, it seems unlikely that they reach down to Springfield again as they did with Martinez. If, however, they were to do so, there's a couple players that would be the obvious choice. Relievers Keith Butler and Michael Blazek are the strongest contenders in the pen. Tim Cooney has been generating some surprisingly good reports out of Springfield. Cooney is particularly interesting since he fits a new mold of Cardinal prospect. He throws strikes and has impressive command which allows his pitches to play up beyond his pure stuff. It's unlikely that he jumps to the majors but he could benefit by a promotion to Memphis depending on how this all plays out.
What's striking about the Gast injury and the Cardinals so far this year is that they have been able to supplement from within and not miss a beat. With the addition of the second wild card team, the trading season has been further prolonged forcing teams to find medium term solutions internally. The Gast injury will again test the Cardinals and their depth.