Cards hope for best as Furcal feels elbow 'pop'

Cards hope for best as Furcal feels elbow 'pop'

Cards hope for best as Furcal feels elbow 'pop'
WASHINGTON -- Unable to straighten his right elbow after feeling a sensation that he described as a "pop" on Thursday night, shortstop Rafael Furcal will travel back to St. Louis on Friday to undergo an MRI exam that will determine the severity of an injury the Cardinals are currently labeling as a right elbow strain.

But several within the organization already fear the reality is much worse. There are concerns that Furcal's season ended on the diamond at Nationals Park.

"It's sore right now," Furcal said after the game, in which he exited in the sixth inning. "It's bad. I cannot extend it. I hope it's nothing bad. I hope it's nothing crazy."

Indications are, though, that it is. There was already some early speculation that Furcal might have damaged his ulnar collateral ligament, which, if damaged severely enough, could require Tommy John surgery to repair. Even if it's just a muscle strain, Furcal would likely be sidelined for several weeks while his club tries to make a push for the postseason.

"It's very concerning," outfielder Matt Holliday said. "He's one of the best shortstops defensively in the league. Even when he doesn't swing the bat well, he brings a lot to the team."

"Any time any of your teammates get hurt, it's sad, disappointing," added starter Jaime Garcia. "But especially [with] a guy like Raffy. He's been huge for us all year. Let's hope for the best."

Manager Mike Matheny, along with the trainer, raced out to check on Furcal after the shortstop threw to second for a sixth-inning forceout. Furcal grimaced during the throw and was rubbing his elbow after.

After a brief conversation -- one in which Furcal lobbied to remain in the game -- Matheny asked for a baseball. He wanted to see if Furcal could make another throw.

"When he did, he winced. That was enough," Matheny said. "That's all we needed to see to know we needed to get him out."

Afterward, Furcal explained that the elbow pain began a few plays earlier in the inning. Washington's Ian Desmond led off the inning with a grounder that took Furcal deep into the hole at short. Furcal said when he fielded the ball and made that throw, he felt "something break, like pop." Three batters later, on a throw he made to home plate, Furcal felt the pop again.

On his third throw of the inning -- the one that brought out his manager -- Furcal said he "felt like a little tingling."

Furcal said that the discomfort does not compare to any injury he's had before. This year he has battled back stiffness, but even that had waned recently. His ability to stay relatively healthy was a boon to the Cardinals, who knew that there was risk to signing him to a two-year, $14 million contract over the winter.

Only once in the previous four seasons had Furcal appeared in at least 100 games. This year, he played in 121 of the team's first 131. And even though his season average has dipped to .264, Furcal has been particularly critical on defense.

"He's been a phenomenal part of this team," Matheny said. "He's had a great season and is one of the better solid defenders I've seen at shortstop. Even losing him for today wasn't good."

In Furcal's absence, Daniel Descalso can step in to start at short. The Cardinals also have some middle-infield options in the Minors, though the club likely won't make a move until rosters can expand beyond 25 players on Saturday. Ryan Jackson, who was sent down after Yadier Molina got knocked out on Tuesday, would be another candidate to take some playing time in Furcal's absence.