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Cardinals have depth to withstand loss of Jaime Garcia to surgery

Jaime Garcia is likely to be out for the rest of the season. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)Jaime Garcia is likely to be out for the rest of the season. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

After battling shoulder troubles for the better part of a full year — a span during which he pitched effectively but required three separate trips to the disabled list — Jaime Garcia will soon undergo surgery. The Cardinals have not announced the date on which the 26-year-old lefty will go under the knife, but the operation will likely end his season.

Until getting knocked around for four homers and 11 runs in 11 1/3 innings over his last two starts, Garcia had pitched surprisingly well given his condition. Initially diagnosed with shoulder impingement due to tears in his rotator cuff and labrum early last June, he missed two and a half months but struck out 10 Pirates over eight innings in his return, and pitched well enough down the stretch — six quality starts out of nine, including five out of six in September — to make the Cardinals' postseason roster.

Alas, Garcia lasted just two innings in his Division Series Game 2 start against the Nationals, and was removed from both the game and the roster once he complained of further shoulder troubles. He drew criticism from teammates once he admitted that he felt renewed discomfort while throwing a side session prior to that start. At that point, the consensus from several doctors was that Garcia should undergo surgery, but he opted for a rest and rehab program endorsed by Dr. James Andrews. He began the year back in the St. Louis rotation, and through May 5, pitched to a 2.25 ERA while throwing four quality starts out of seven and falling one out shy of doing so on two other occasions. But with his shoulder pain increasing over a three-start span to the point that it surpassed what he dealt with last year, he made the rounds again, and this time, Dr. Andrews recommended surgery. The procedure will be done by the Cardinals' head physician, Dr. George Paletta.

GALLERY: Cardinals rotation on cover of Sports Illustrated

Garcia's absence will test the depth of a St. Louis rotation that has held up admirably in the wake of losing Chris Carpenter to a recurrence of thoracic outlet syndrome back in February. The unit's 2.64 ERA is the best in the league by nearly half a run per nine; Garcia's 3.58 ERA is actually the highest among the starting five. Adam Wainwright (2.38 ERA, 11.5 K/BB ratio) has returned to form in his second year back from Tommy John surgery, Shelby Miller (1.74 ERA, 9.8 K/9) has been phenomenal as a rookie, Lance Lynn (3.27 ERA, 9.3 K/9) has been on par with last year's strong first-half showing, and Jake Westbrook (1.62 ERA) was pitching well before going on the disabled list with elbow inflammation on May 9.

Taking Garcia's spot in the rotation will be 25-year-old lefty Tyler Lyons, who will become the third rookie in the rotation alongside the 22-year-old Miller and 24-year-old lefty John Gast, who took the place of Westbrook. A ninth-round 2010 pick out of Oklahoma State University, Lyons didn't rank among the Cardinals' top 30 prospects coming into the year according to Baseball America, which listed the team's deep farm system as the game's best. A 6-foot-4, 200 pounder, Lyons is a command-and-control type with a groundball tendency and a good changeup. Gast, a sixth-round 2010 pick out of Florida State who ranked 26th on BA's list, may have better stuff than Lyons but worse command.

Either rookie southpaw might soon give way to Westbrook, who could be back in early June, with the other one yielding to the more highly regarded Michael Wacha, a 6-foot-6, 21-year-old righty who was the team's first round pick (19th overall) out of Texas A&M in last June's draft. The owner of a mid-90s fastball and a changeup that BA called the best of the 2012 draft, Wacha ranked sixth on the publication's Cardinals list and 76th among its top 100 prospects overall coming into the year. He has just 73 2/3 professional innings under his belt, 21 spread across three levels last year and then 52 2/3 at Triple-A Memphis this year, where he's put up a 2.05 ERA but is striking out just 5.8 per nine. The key for Wacha is the improvement of his breaking ball; neither his slider nor his curve graded out above average prior to this year, but Baseball Prospectus' Zach Mortimer recently noted that his curveball has shown plus potential lately. Wacha isn't on the 40-man roster yet, though Garcia's eventual move to the 60-day disabled list could open up a spot.

For all of the injuries to their pitchers — including also the loss of closer Jason Motte to Tommy John surgery — the Cardinals have the NL's best record at 29-16, the best run differential at +57, the best run prevention at 3.47 runs per game and one of the league's best offenses as well. As inevitable as Garcia's surgery may have been, the team is set up as well as any to handle a season-ending injury, and his loss shouldn't do much to diminish their chances of yet another trip to the postseason.

Update: Shortly after this was published, MLB.com's Jennifer Langosch, who covers the Cardinals beat, reported via Twitter that Westbrook had just cut short his bullpen session:

http://twitter.com/LangoschMLB/status/337358703583977472

At the very least, that likely pushes back Westbrook's return by a couple of weeks, meaning even more exposure for Gast, Lyons and/or Wacha in the near future.

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