Every driver knows the feeling of seeing the “check engine” light come on in their vehicle. One can hope the light is an error or minor issue, but more often it is an indication of a serious problem that will only grow worse if not resolved soon. Today, the St. Louis Cardinals may have had their own check engine light turn on according to two troubling stories released in this morning’s edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
First, Rick Hummel reported that top pitching prospect Shelby Miler has been shelved with shoulder tightness. Manager Mike Matheny said that the club is “not too concerned.” The team will rest Miller for the next day or two, and presumably reevaluate at that point.
The second warning sign came from Derrick Goold who reported that shortstop Rafael Furcal has been “slowed by an irritation in his right elbow.” Furcal will not miss much of the first week of Grapefruit League games, if not more. Furcal’s condition appears more worrisome as it is related to a bone spur.
Both stories have the potential to get better, or worse.
Miller could feel fine two days from now, but if the stiffness continues he may have to be shutdown longer and taken in for tests.
Furcal is currently receiving anti-inflammatory treatment, but if the soreness does not go away “more aggressive treatment will be considered” according to Goold. Furcal still has yet to even let loose on a full-force throw from the hole this year.
These two troubling developments are on top of the news that Chris Carpenter likely will miss the entire season due to nerve issues with his shoulder and neck. Before they have even played a Grapefruit League game the Cardinals are already dealing with potentially serious injuries to three significant players who were expected to contribute.
As the team entered spring training optimism was high as it is for nearly every team not called the Houston Astros. The Cardinals had eight pitchers who started last year competing for five slots in the rotation. Now, at least until Miller proves healthy, the Cardinals are down to six starters for five slots, and one of those starters (Trevor Rosenthal) has very limited starting pitching experience above AA. The perceived strength of the team, namely its proven veteran core, could also be its downfall due to injuries that come with age.
If Furcal cannot start the season the Cardinals will have to rely on Ronny Cedeno. Cedeno may be adequate as a defender, but he posted a sub-.300 OBP in the last two full season he played with very little power. Simply, put Cedeno is a huge offensive liability. And while Pete Kozma shined for one month last year, Kozma’s career minor league numbers suggest that he will not be much better at the plate than Cedeno.
The check engine light is now on for the team, and just as a driver ignores that light at their peril the Cardinals management could be playing with fire by not addressing the problems proactively. At this point, another injury to an infielder or starting pitcher (see Jaime Garcia) would be the equivalent of a blown gasket or transmission failure.
Fans the team can only hope the news gets better from here, because so far the developments from spring training have been mostly bad.