The Cardinals' Alex Reyes speaks with reporters Wednesday in Jupiter, Fla., about the injury that will force him to miss this season. 

By Rob Rains

Alex Reyes had a pretty succinct reaction to the news that he will miss this season because of a torn ligament in his right elbow.

“It sucks,” Reyes said Wednesday in Jupiter, Fla.

What the Cardinals feared on Tuesday became official on Wednesday. Reyes, one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, needs Tommy John surgery.

The operation likely will be performed on Thursday in Jupiter by Dr. George Paletta, the Cardinals’ team physician. The recovery time is expected to be about 12 months, said general manager John Mozeliak.

Reyes, 22, underwent an MRI on Tuesday, which revealed the torn ligament. It was the first day of spring training for the Cardinals’ pitchers and catchers, and Reyes had been scheduled to throw a bullpen session but those plans quickly changed when he was examined by the team’s medical staff.

Reyes had told trainers last Friday that he had experienced “discomfort” in his elbow while throwing a side session at his home in New Jersey.

“I felt something different so I let the trainer know,” Reyes told reporters on Wednesday. “It was kind of a pain throughout my elbow that I hadn’t felt before.”

Reyes has dealt with a couple of injuries while pitching in the minor leagues since signing with the Cardinals, but neither was to the degree of this latest setback.

“It sucks,” he said. “You want to be on the field. That’s something that can’t happen right now.”

The injury came at the start of a spring training when Reyes was expected to compete for a spot in the Cardinals’ rotation and also was a leading candidate for the National League Rookie of the Year award.

He went 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA in 12 games for the Cardinals after being promoted in August of last season and pitched 46 innings, which allowed him to retain his rookie status. A pitcher must have less than 50 innings to be considered a rookie.

Manager Mike Matheny was thinking more about what the injury means for Reyes on Wednesday than what it means to this year’s Cardinals.

“Figuring out how that affects us is secondary to what he’s going through personally,” Matheny said. “It’s been a tough couple years on this kid.”

Reyes had to miss the first two months of last season while serving a 50-game suspension for testing positive for marijuana. The test came when he was pitching in the Arizona Fall League in 2015.

The Cardinals had come into the spring undecided about whether Reyes would be in the starting rotation or be used coming out of the bullpen. He did both in his brief time with the team last season after starting throughout his minor league career.

“We put him into some tough ones (situations),” Matheny said. “Every time we gave him an opportunity he impressed us. He’s a pretty impressive package.”

The injury makes Michael Wacha the favorite to fill the open spot in the rotation, and he might have been the one to do that anyway – with Reyes in the bullpen. All of that depends on Wacha’s health, as he has battled shoulder issues each of the last two seasons.

The Cardinals also have Luke Weaver as a starting candidate, as well as former closer Trevor Rosenthal, who could now get more of a chance to pitch some of the innings which would have gone to Reyes. Left-handers Marco Gonzales and Tyler Lyons also are progressing in their recovery from surgeries last year and could enter into the mix at some point, Mozeliak said.

Mozeliak said he was happy with that depth, and that he did not expect to go outside the organization to add a pitch because of the loss of Reyes.

“We have to remain optimistic and positive,” Mozeliak said. “In this game there are injuries. The timing is not great, but when is it ever great?”