ST. LOUIS -- An MRI taken of Cardinals closer Jason Motte's right elbow on Tuesday revealed a low-grade tear of the ligament, which, if it doesn't show improvement over the next three weeks, will require season-ending Tommy John surgery.
The news, which was delivered by general manager John Mozeliak just prior to Tuesday's first pitch, has the club bracing for the possibility of playing the rest of the year without its closer. It also came a day after the Cardinals' bullpen was exposed during a late-inning meltdown.
"Your job is to try and plan and deal with things," Mozeliak said. "But as you thought about how we planned this offseason, we felt pretty good about our ninth, eighth and seventh innings. Now we're going to have to reshuffle. When you think about the last few years, we felt pretty good about our bullpen going in because there wasn't injuries. Now we have an injury. Clearly, when you lose your closer, it's not easy shoes to fill."
Tuesday's MRI provided the first indication that the ligament in Motte's throwing arm had been compromised. When he was shut down from throwing after his March 21 Grapefruit League appearance, it was determined that he had sustained a strain of his flexor tendon muscle. Inflammation from that injury concealed the ligament tear until now.
While he would have preferred a more promising prognosis, Motte said he did find some relief in at least getting some clarity as to why he continued to feel discomfort during some of his range-of-motion exercises. As for the possibility of surgery, Motte hasn't dwelled on that just yet.
"It's kind of out of my hands, honestly," Motte said. "We're doing everything we can to get it better. You think about it, but it is what it is. If I have to, I have to. There's nothing I can do about it. I have to put faith in that everything is going to go all right."
At the recommendation of head physician George Paletta, Motte has been prescribed three more weeks of rest. If he does not improve to the point where he can resume a throwing program by May 1, then surgery becomes the likely course of action.
"Realistically, we want to be optimistic with this," Mozeliak said. "But we also have to understand that now we are talking about surgery, which, three weeks ago, was not something we felt was on the table. Understanding the bandwidth of outcomes here, how we think about moving forward, I think it's all hands on deck. I don't think we'll rule anything out at this point."
Putting a limit on how long the Cardinals will wait to see improvement is necessary in order to ensure that Motte isn't lost for this season and much of 2014, as well. The recovery time for pitchers who undergo Tommy John surgery is typically 12-15 months, meaning that the earlier Motte were to have a procedure, the more time he'd salvage next season.
In January, the Cardinals signed Motte to a two-year, $12 million extension. He will be a free agent when that contract ends after the 2014 season.
"We're still going to be optimistic until they tell us differently," manager Mike Matheny said. "We'll have to be patient and watch him go through the rehab process and hopefully we'll get some good news and we'll see him playing some catch here soon, which would be something to look forward to. "
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.