MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Reyes' injury starts Cards' camp on sour note

Reyes' injury starts Cards' camp on sour note

No, thanks. We'll take a mulligan. This isn't how anyone wanted to start Spring Training.

The Cardinals' announced Wednesday morning that Alex Reyes has a complete tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and will require Tommy John surgery. That's real bad.

Adam Wainwright 2011 bad.

At least Wainwright was approaching his age-29 season, with almost 900 innings under his belt, before he felt something barking in his elbow in one of his first bullpen sessions that February. Reyes, the No. 6 prospect in baseball, is just getting started, and he provided such a wonderful teaser after getting to St. Louis as a 21-year-old last August.

Nobody pitched better for the Cards down the stretch, including Wainwright and Carlos Martinez, the post-Wainwright ace who just landed a five-year, $51 million contract. Reyes dazzled with the quick-twitch strength emanating from his tree-trunk legs, and he had the confidence of a kid lacking serious scar tissue.

Reyes hit 101 mph in his Major League debut at Busch Stadium, working one inning while Wainwright and his other teammates shook their heads in the dugout. The Redbirds really didn't want to throw him into the fire, but they turned to him after five electrifying outings out of the bullpen, including three scoreless innings at Wrigley Field on Aug. 13, when he piggybacked off a Luke Weaver start to earn his first victory.

Reyes used his 96-98 mph fastballs and a changeup that he threw almost 10-mph slower to build a 1.57 ERA in 46 Major League innings. The damage hitters did came when he hung curveballs or threw sinkers while behind in the count.

Reyes is an ace in the making, and along with Martinez, he was likely the best hope that the Cardinals have to reassert themselves in the National League Central, both this season and in the immediate future. Reyes, now 22, and the 25-year-old Martinez are the young power arms that the Cubs have not yet developed or acquired.

It's a blow to see Reyes require Tommy John surgery. He's exactly the kind of pitcher who puts a smile on your face when you're going to the ballpark to see him, whether you're a Cards fan or just a baseball fan.

Reyes piled up 93 strikeouts in 65 1/3 innings in Triple-A last season, in keeping with his career Minor League rate of 12.1 strikeouts per nine. His stuff is electric, and at 6-foot-3, he looked well equipped to supply the power. But the attrition rate for pitchers is horrifying, no matter how far we advance in our understanding of how to condition and use pitchers, and Reyes reported to Jupiter, Fla., as a major concern that the Redbirds did not know they had.

Baseball's like that.

But here's another thing about baseball: It can delight you as unexpectedly as it can break your heart if you're a fan of any team. There's nowhere that should be better understood than in St. Louis.

The Cardinals seemed outclassed by the Tigers in the 2006 World Series, in large part because of an imbalance in starting pitching. But St. Louis won in five games,with Jeff Weaver, Anthony Reyes and Jeff Suppan working alongside Chris Carpenter, as Wainwright replaced Jason Isringhausen as the closer.

Then there was 2011, when Wainwright was sidelined for his Tommy John surgery.

The Cards did what they always seem to do, find the answers when they need them. They stormed back to beat the Rangers in Games 6 and 7 of a dramatic World Series, with Jaime Garcia and Carpenter starting. The other guys in their World Series rotation were Edwin Jackson and Kyle Lohse.

It's unclear what the Redbirds will do now that Reyes is lost for the season. They'll need to get a nice comeback season from Lance Lynn and a first career 200-inning performance from Martinez, along with solid work by Wainwright and Mike Leake.

There are still free-agent starters available, including Doug Fister, Jered Weaver (who cheered on his brother Jeff in 2006), Jonathon Niese, Jorge De La Rosa and Jake Peavy. The Cardinals have internal options in Weaver, Michael Wacha and maybe even Trevor Rosenthal, who has come to camp stretched out to start after losing his closer's job to Seung Hwan Oh.

Jose Quintana, you say?

Great thought, but it's arguable whether the Cards have enough in their farm system to land the White Sox left-hander, who will be a difference-maker for somebody at some point this season.

Based on what White Sox GM Rick Hahn has been seeking, the Cardinals could offer Weaver, 22-year-old catcher Carson Kelly, 22-year-old outfielder Harrison Bader and 18-year-old shortstop Delvin Perez and still not get Quintana. That sounds crazy, but Quintana is controlled for four years. He'd be an absolutely perfect get for St. Louis, but the Redbirds might not have the high-end prospects to make a deal work.

No matter where this story line goes from here, it's a deflating way to open Spring Training. But maybe the next chapter will be better. It often is.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.