Before June 22nd, no one could have guessed that 12 different pitchers would end up starting games for the 2014 St. Louis Cardinals. Six of the starters would be called into service the rest of the way, in response to the shockwaves that followed the events of that day in late June.
That was an especially bad time for the club, with subsequent moves that altered the club’s direction for both 2014 and 2015. A starting rotation that was number one in ERA in Major League Baseball at the time was decimated when two of its five members were placed on the disabled list at the same time – left-hander Jaime Garcia and right-hander Michael Wacha.
It was not yet known that they would both essentially be done for the season.
Wacha’s injury seemingly came out of the blue and brought with it an unusual diagnosis. He had what was called a stress reaction in his pitching shoulder. When placed on the DL, he was 5-5 with a 2.79 ERA for the defending NL champions.
Considered one of the most promising young pitchers in the game, Wacha had been the MVP of the National League Championship Series as a rookie in 2013 after throwing 13 2/3 shutout innings against the Dodgers.
Having opened the 2014 season on the shelf, Garcia’s return trip was less surprising, especially given his recent history. It was initially stated that he re-aggravated his surgically repaired left shoulder. At the time, he was 3-1 with a 4.12 ERA.
When healthy, Garcia went 26-15 in 2010 and 2011 and secured a four-to-six year contract extension before running into his shoulder problems. He had missed all but nine starts in 2013 then underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum.
Complaining of nerve issues and numbness in his hand in June 2014, Garcia opted for season-ending thoracic outlet surgery. The news of his third procedure in as many years ruffled feathers in the front office.
The club’s immediate response to the loss of the two signaled the battle expected ahead for a rotation spot in 2015 spring training.
Two rookies were called upon first. Carlos Martinez initially stepped into the rotation for Wacha. Lefty Marco Gonzales received the call from Double-A Springfield to take Garcia’s turn. Neither would stick, however.
All of the sudden, the greatest area of strength for the 2014 Cardinals, the rotation, required shoring up in an initiative that culminated in a pair of late-July trades.
Joe Kelly, who had been out since April with a hamstring injury, soon returned. He took over for Gonzales until his trade to Boston, with veteran John Lackey, who came the other way in the four-player swap, then joining the starting five.
Tyler Lyons made four starts, logging a 6.55 ERA before the organization acquired 2013 American League all-star Justin Masterson from Cleveland. The Cardinals gave him six turns through the rotation before tiring of his seven-plus ERA.
Wacha returned in September, but was clearly not himself. The 22-year-old made four final-month starts, never getting beyond the fifth inning and posting a 5.40 ERA. Though active in the post-season, Wacha did not pitch until his very curious use in the final inning of the Cardinals’ NLCS elimination game in San Francisco.
Despite the bad news that came to a head on June 22nd, the Cardinals managed to hold their 2014 rotation together. The club ended the regular season ranked fifth in the NL with a starters’ ERA of 3.44.
One can forever speculate how much better 2014 could have been with a healthy Wacha and Garcia all season long rather than the parade of less-effective replacements.
Looking ahead to 2015, the public prognosis for Wacha is good, but some worries must remain due to the unusual nature of his injury. At this point, nothing is expected of Garcia. Though the club could control the left-hander through 2017, it seems more likely they will pay the remaining $10.25 million due him and exit the deal after next season.
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