Cards' 3B coach Oquendo taking medical leave

Club's 'Secret Weapon' may miss 2016 season while rehabbing knee injury

JUPITER, Fla. -- The Cardinals are preparing for the possibility that third-base coach Jose Oquendo will miss the entire 2016 season as he rehabs a right knee injury.

The organization announced on Sunday, one week ahead of the club's regular-season opener, that Oquendo will be taking a medical leave of absence. Oquendo, once nicknamed the team's "Secret Weapon" by Whitey Herzog, has had limited mobility since undergoing surgery on his knee earlier this month.

It was the second knee procedure for Oquendo within a span of a few months, and it left him reliant on crutches or a cart to get around camp.

"They're just concerned that when he gets out there and does what he needs to do for his job that it would certainly lead toward a replacement, which no one likes the idea of right now," manager Mike Matheny said of his longest tenured coach. "He just has to take time."

Instead of serving as the Cardinals' third-base coach and infield instructor for a 17th consecutive season, Oquendo will spend the next several months rehabbing in Florida. As recently as last week, Oquendo had spoken optimistically about his chances of being ready to take his place in the third-base coach's box on Opening Day.

"Jose was optimistic, and things just weren't getting better," Matheny said. "The medical team was getting more concerned about if he pushed it, what the ramifications will be."

There are immediate ramifications for the Cardinals, however, as they're now forced to shuffle coaching responsibilities in the final days of camp. Chris Maloney, who has been the club's first-base coach since 2012, takes Oquendo's place as third-base coach. Infield instruction and in-game defensive shifting will be shared by bench coach David Bell and Bill Mueller, the team's new first-base coach. Mueller had been the team's assistant hitting coach.

Derrick May, the organization's Minor League hitting coordinator, has been promoted to the Major League staff, where he will work alongside John Mabry as an assistant hitting coach. George Greer will oversee hitting instruction for all of the Cardinals' Minor League affiliates.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.