NEW YORK • Even after more than two months of play, the Cardinals' bullpen remains under construction, delayed by missing pieces, weakened support, and several injuries. The relievers are "defining themselves," manager Mike Matheny said several times this past weekend.
At least the club has a better idea what was ailing one of them.
Shortly after he was demoted to Class AAA, righthander Fernando Salas told the club he had passed a kidney stone. Salas had dealt with discomfort and pain in his abdomen since spring training, once taking several days off and getting an ultrasound for the issue. Salas made his fourth appearance Sunday since being optioned and allowed three runs on four hits. Matheny said the righty has felt better in outings after the pain cleared and shown increased velocity.
Matheny outlined how Salas, Kyle McClellan (elbow), and Scott Linebrink (shoulder) were three righties the Cardinals had planned to use in the seventh and eighth innings. Their absence and other inconsistencies have led to the scramble.
"We're in a fight mode right now as a team," Matheny said. "In the bullpen we're two months into this thing and still trying to figure out what we're doing with our guys to give us the best chance of defining ourselves."
Lefthander Sam Freeman made his major-league debut Friday night, but it was Eduardo Sanchez who faced a string of lefties Saturday. Victor Marte has pitched his way into a fireman role, and Mitchell Boggs continues to bridge leads to closer Jason Motte. But when and how lefty Marc Rzepczynski is used has fluctuated. The Cardinals do not have a long reliever available.
Linebrink was scheduled to throw in a bullpen session in St. Louis on Sunday but is still considered weeks away from a return.
Entering Sunday night's game, the bullpen had allowed eight runs in the previous three games (eight innings of work). In the final 13 games of May, the bullpen took a loss, blown save, or both in six of them. Matheny has said stabilizing the starting staff will help speed up the "definition" of the bullpen.
"I like the horsepower we have down there," he said. "It's just a matter of using it properly."
GARCIA on pace for TUESDAY
Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia is expected to join the team in Houston tonight, and Matheny said he expects the lefty to be ready for his scheduled start Tuesday. Garcia was not with the club in New York as he spent the weekend in St. Louis taming inflammation in his left elbow. Matheny said "everything is pointed toward Jaime being ready." There will still be a Plan B if the pain in Garcia's elbow returns before the Tuesday game at Minute Maid Park.
Matheny declined to disclose the backup option. Depth starter Brandon Dickson pitched five innings in Class AAA on Saturday. Tuesday would be Shelby Miller's turn in the Triple-A Memphis rotation.
Matheny said the Cardinals have not put a cap on first-year starter Lance Lynn's workload this season and suggested outside factors could play a role in limiting the righty's work or changing his job description. Chris Carpenter's return from a shoulder injury "would go into the equation" and the club's interest in recent free agent pitcher Roy Oswalt was a potential answer, Matheny said. Oswalt signed with the Texas Rangers.
Lynn has thrown 68 1/3 innings this season; he threw 109 2/3 total last season, split between the majors and Class AAA, and threw 164 innings in 2010.
"We haven't put the long-term game plan together yet," Matheny said. "We have to maximize the here and now. We've talked about how (we could) make adjustments. Our GM was running after Oswalt. That was something that he was seriously trying to make happen. There has been a lot of moving parts to what could happen. We're not being blind to the fact that it's considerably different to what he's done in the past."
Outfielder Shane Robinson was a scratch from the starting lineup because of a migraine headache. … Cardinals pitching coach Derek Lilliquist returned Sunday from Florida, where he had been to attend his son's high school graduation.