JUPITER, Fla. -- Having already lost a longtime ace and veteran shortstop in the last two months, the Cardinals are now preparing to begin the 2013 season without their closer.
An MRI exam taken Friday confirmed that Jason Motte sustained a mild strain of the flexor tendon in his right elbow. The injury has shut him down indefinitely and led general manager John Mozeliak to describe the chances of Motte beginning on the disabled list as "likely."
"We want to be aggressive in this, but we also want to be smart," Mozeliak said. "Any time you're dealing with the elbow, as we saw with [Rafael] Furcal, you can try to be as patient as you want, but the outcome is not always positive."
As for how long Motte may be sidelined, Mozeliak said the club should "know a lot more in the next couple of weeks."
With Motte out, the Cardinals' bullpen roles will be shuffled. Manager Mike Matheny said Mitchell Boggs -- the team's eighth-inning setup man in 2012 -- will assume the closer's duties. Edward Mujica and Trevor Rosenthal are expected to get the bulk of the setup opportunities in front of Boggs.
"We're all going to have to pick up the slack, and I know our bullpen certainly has the firepower out there to do it," said Boggs, who saved four games in 2011. "I'm sure every single guy out there is going to ask a little bit more of themselves. We know we have to hold it together until he gets back, and when he does get back, we'll be stronger."
Motte's elbow injury is different from the one that cost Furcal a full season, as it is related not to the ligament, but to the tendon. Defining a timetable or a specific course of rehab for such an injury, though, remains tricky.
Nick Punto, for instance, missed about six weeks with the same injury in 2011. Minnesota's Scott Baker, on the other hand, lost the full 2012 season after requiring surgery to clear scar tissue from that tendon.
"I have to keep my spirits up as far as staying positive, trying to do what I need to do to get myself back out there," Motte said. "All those guys down there have great stuff. I'm not worried one bit about that. I'm trying, right now, to get everything back to where I need to be to go out there and help these guys win."
Motte pitched a scoreless inning against the Mets on Thursday, during which, he said, nothing felt abnormal. But on the bus ride back to the Cardinals' complex, he began experiencing some tightness in his forearm. Motte alerted the Cardinals' medical staff that afternoon, and then had the MRI exam when the stiffness persisted Friday.
Since then, Motte has begun to take anti-inflammatory medication and has put his arm through range-of-motion tests. Asked how long it might be before Motte can throw a ball again, Mozeliak answered, "I don't know."
Motte, who saved 42 games in 49 opportunities for the Cardinals last season, has, until now, enjoyed a mostly injury-free career. His only other DL stint came in 2010, when Motte missed a month with a shoulder injury. He has notched every save the Cardinals have had since Octavio Dotel closed a game on Sept. 19, 2011.
Last season was Motte's first as a full-season closer for the Cardinals, and he became just the fourth Cardinals pitcher to save at least 40 games in a season. He has a 2.96 ERA over the last four seasons, which ranks 10th among National League pitchers with at least 200 appearances.
"He's a guy who means an awful lot to our team and the success that we've had," Boggs said. "You're also talking about a guy who is a good teammate and a great friend. Any time you hear news about somebody dealing with something injury-wise, it's never good. But I think the news certainly isn't catastrophic. He'll do everything he can to get back as soon as he can. He'll be back making a huge difference like he always does."
Motte signed a two-year, $12-million contract in January that has him in line to make $4 million this season.
"We'll pray for a quick healing," Matheny said. "If that doesn't happen, someone else is going to take the position and make the most of it."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.