Trevor Rosenthal will undergo Tommy John next week, which creates a major void in the Cardinals' bullpen. (File) 

By Rob Rains

The Cardinals’ challenge of catching the Cubs – now and next season – got much more difficult on Wednesday when they learned they will have to do it without closer Trevor Rosenthal.

General Manager Michael Girsch confirmed what had been suspected for several days, that Rosenthal needs Tommy John surgery. The operation has been scheduled for next week in California.

Without Rosenthal, the Cardinals basically have no order to their bullpen. They have three saves since the All-Star break that were not earned by Rosenthal - one each for Brett Cecil, Matt Bowman and Seung Hwan Oh.

All of those pitchers, as well as every other reliever not named Tyler Lyons, has had his share of struggles of late, which will make it quite interesting to see how manager Mike Matheny lines up his relievers on any given night.

“Somebody’s going to have to step in,” Matheny said. “We’ll figure it out as we go. … It’s a tough spot. Some guys are made for that situation. You only find out by throwing them in high-leverage positions and seeing how they respond.

“We have a lot of season left. It’s just now getting exciting. All we are thinking about each night in the bullpen is different roles and how to win a game.”

Girsch admitted the team has been studying the waiver wire to see if there was a possible outside fix available, at least for the short term, but admitted he was not optimistic help would be coming by that route.

Whether or not the Cardinals will try to sign a potential closer as a free agent this winter, or trade for one, will be a topic to be addressed later, Girsch said.

“It certainly creates a need where we had a pretty set answer,” Girsch said. “In the short term there’s not a ton we can do about it, unfortunately, because of the time of the year. In the longer term it’s something we will have to add to the list of things we are trying to address this off-season.”

Rosenthal, who has dealt with arm issues for much of the last two years, believes he hurt the elbow this time while pitching to the Braves’ Freddie Freeman on Aug. 12.

“That was the first night I felt something different,” Rosenthal said.

“I felt it on the last pitch I threw to him and against the next batter, Nick Markakis, I didn’t feel very good and I looked up on the scoreboard and saw I was throwing 92 (mph). My feelings were kind of going along with my performance. That was a little bit of a scary situation.

“I had three days off and then heading into the Boston game (Aug. 16) it didn’t really recover and wasn’t bouncing back. That’s when I knew it was something I had to get checked out.”

Rosenthal gave up a home run that night on a 91 mile per hour fastball, a drop of seven or eight miles per hour from his normal fastball velocity.

An examination by Cardinals’ team physician Dr. George Paletta revealed damage to the ligament in Rosenthal’s right elbow, although not a complete rupture. Consultation with a second doctor came to the same conclusion.

Rosenthal said his only other option other than surgery was to have an injection of plasma in his elbow, followed by eight to 12 weeks of rest. There was no guarantee that would work, however, and he might still have needed the operation at that point.

“You realize that’s just the reality of what we do,” Rosenthal said of the possibility of one day needing this operation. “Any single pitch or any single play can cause an injury. We live in that realty … Last year when I had MRIs on my elbow the ligament looked pretty good for a pitcher who does what I do. For whatever reason over the last year it got worn down.”

The timetable for pitchers to recover following Tommy John surgery is usually at least 12 months.

Before the game in Boston, Rosenthal had converted seven consecutive save opportunities and in 15 games since July 4 had allowed only one earned run with four walks and 28 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings.

The injury comes at a tricky time for Rosenthal in terms of his contract status. He is eligible for arbitration for the third and final year after this season, and can be a free agent after the 2018 season – which he now will be forced to miss.

Both Girsch and Rosenthal said that topic will be addressed later, once the surgery has been completed and Rosenthal has begun the rehab process.

“At this point we are focused on getting him through the surgery,” Girsch said.

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