ST. LOUIS -- As the Cardinals are forced to face the reality of playing out the rest of the 2015 season withoutAdam Wainwright, attention now turns to filling his vacant spot in the rotation.
Internally, the two most attractive candidates are lefties Marco Gonzales and Jaime Garcia, though neither is ready to fill in immediately. Garcia, who had to stop throwing in late March due to shoulder tightness, is scheduled to throw his second simulated game on Thursday. If all goes well, he'll be in line to pitch in an extended spring game next.
With Garcia's arm strength building and pitch count rising, general manager John Mozeliak surmised that Garcia could factor into the Major League plans in less than a month. That is assuming, of course, that there is no additional setback when he goes out on a Minor League rehab assignment.
Gonzales' return should be even earlier. He notified the Triple-A staff of some discomfort around his left pectoral muscle last week and skipped a start as a result. But an MRI taken of Gonzales' left shoulder on Monday came back clean, and he's been cleared to resume throwing in two days.
The Cardinals will have Gonzales make at least one start with Memphis to prove his health before considering him for the big league rotation.
That means that in the meantime, the rotation spot will be filled by either lefty Tim Cooney or lefty Tyler Lyons. Cooney was scratched from his scheduled Triple-A start on Monday, though Mozeliak cautioned against reading too much into that. He said a decision had still not been made. Lyons is currently listed as Memphis' starter for Tuesday.
If the Cardinals choose Cooney, they would have to add him to the 40-man roster. Lyons has made 12 career spot starts for St. Louis.
"When you think about losing someone like Adam Wainwright, it's not something that you can just fill," Mozeliak said. "I think the easy way for us to think about it right now is our four starters have to step up, and then obviously we'll have to worry about that fifth spot. I think the initial look is going to have to be internal. We'll see how that goes."
How the Cardinals fare over the next few weeks will also determine whether they start looking externally for another starter. Though the club believes it has adequate pitching depth, replacing a pitcher who has reliably provided 200-plus innings every season won't be simple.
"Our job is to put a product out there that can compete and that we're proud of," Mozeliak said. "If that means having to look outside the organization, we're certainly going to do that and have done that in the past. But if we can absorb this internally, that would be a great solution.
"The innings gap is not easy. It's not a simple replacement. When you think about this in the short view, we have to get through this Thursday and then five days later as we think about this more long term, then it may be where we do have to consider something outside."