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Lots of questions adding up for Cards

By Jose De Jesus Ortiz St. Louis Post-Dispatch

This article was published February 16, 2017 at 2:45 a.m.

JUPITER, Fla. -- The disappointment at Roger Dean Stadium was as clear as the searing sun beaming down on the St. Louis Cardinals' on Wednesday. One day into spring training, and the most electric arm in camp received the news everybody dreaded.

Alex Reyes must undergo Tommy John surgery to reconstruct his torn right ulnar collateral ligament.

Ignore for a second that the hard-throwing right-hander entered camp as the top-rated pitching prospect in baseball. The news would still be a tremendous blow if he were Baseball America's 99th-ranked prospect.

Reyes was a major reason to believe the Cardinals' rotation could be stout, whether he broke camp on the 25-man roster or came up from Class AAA Memphis in May, June or July. With Reyes' overpowering stuff, you have to feel good about the Cardinals making a run at the Cubs or at least being a top contender for a wild-card spot.

"It sucks just to go through this and miss an entire season," said Reyes, who has a ruptured right ulnar collateral ligament. "But if those are the things that have to happen to get back on the field at 100 percent then that's what I have to do."

It stinks indeed.

There's no way to get around it.

No matter how strong your rotation is, it will sting terribly if you lose such an elite arm. There aren't many men who can throw 101-mph fastballs as routinely as Reyes did last year.

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, this is not an unfamiliar story line for them. The news hurts just as bad now as it did when Adam Wainwright got it in 2011.

"From all of us that have been in Jupiter for Cardinals camps over the last 10 years or so, unfortunately we've had to have these types of press conferences because we have lost some key pitchers on Day 1," Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak said. "That's definitely disappointing.

"I think when you see Mike Matheny and when you talk to him we have to remain optimistic and positive because in this game there are injuries. When you think about timing, sure it's not great. But when is it great?"

It's never great.

To paraphrase Reyes, it stinks.

Reyes, 22, is one of those rare top prospects who lived up to the hype right away when he made his big league debut last Aug. 9, 20 days before he celebrated his 22nd birthday.

He went 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA and 1 save in 46 innings over 12 games (five starts) after he was called up from Class AAA Memphis.

He was expected to compete with right-hander Michael Wacha for the fifth spot in the rotation. Now Wacha is all but guaranteed that spot as long as he can remain healthy, and that will be an important question to answer as he returns from the shoulder issues that plagued him again last year.

Right-handed prospect Luke Weaver, who also made his debut last year, and former closer Trevor Rosenthal also will be stretched out this spring.

"Clearly, he was someone that we had talked about competing for that fifth spot," Mozeliak said of Reyes. "So now we have one less. I certainly don't mean it's a panic mode by any means where we have to go out and try to fill between Michael Wacha, Weaver and possibly even Rosey now getting that opportunity.

"Tyler Lyons is someone that's progressing well, so maybe he could be someone that fills in innings as we move forward. So overall I feel we still have that depth. That's why we collect it."

The Cardinals' pitching depth took a major hit Wednesday. Now we must pray that Reyes returns as healthy as ever next year. That's the most important issue here because Reyes has a bright future ahead as long as he bounces back from this elbow problem.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals must hope that Carlos Martinez, Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Mike Leake and Wacha hold up.

The questions are adding up for the Cardinals, and spring training has barely started.

Sports on 02/16/2017

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