MRI reveals ligament tear in Motte’s elbow; surgery a possibility

Jenifer Langosch/

A magnetic resonance imaging exam taken of 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 the first pitch of Tuesday’s game, has the Cardinals bracing for the possibility of playing the rest of the year without their 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 the Cardinals closer was shut down from throwing after his March 21 Grapefruit League, it was determined that he had suffered a strain of his flexor tendon muscle. Inflammation from that injury concealed the ligament tear until now.

At the recommendation of head physician George Paletta, Motte has been prescribed three more weeks of rest. If the ligament has not improved 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 year 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.

Follow me on Twitter: @LangoschMLB

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