Cardinals closer Jason Motte played a light game of catch Saturday and how he recovers from that rehab “baby step” could be enough to push back the club’s deadline it set for this week to determine whether he’ll have season-ending elbow surgery.
“If we keep moving forward and there is no pain and everything feels good it’s not, ‘Oh, May 1, he’s not throwing off a mound, let’s get it done,’” said Motte after his short session of short throws. “I’ve been open-minded, optimistic about the whole thing. If (surgery) is going to happen, it’s going to happen. If we felt surgery was the only option, we would have went ahead and had it and stop wasting time. But we obviously think there are steps that we can take and rehab stuff that we can do to heal it, to make it better. If we didn’t … we wouldn’t even waste our time doing this.
“If we can avoid surgery that’s the ultimate best option.”
Motte started the season on the 15-day disabled list after feeling discomfort in his right forearm and elbow following his final throw of spring training. He was diagnosed earlier this month with a partially torn ligament, an injury that can require reconstructive, or Tommy John, surgery. The Cardinals set May 1, this coming Wednesday, as the target date for a decision.
The recovery from Tommy John surgery can be 12 months or more for a pitcher, and the team did not want Motte’s rehab to rob him of too much time in 2014 because they delayed surgery. Motte is signed through 2014.
“We wanted to have a very good idea of where he was and we wanted him to have a ball in his hand by May 1,” general manager John Mozeliak said. “It looks like he’s going to.”
Motte started the early stages of a throwing program this past week with easy tosses into a net. He advanced Saturday to playing toss with a trainer at about 35 feet to 40 feet. Motte was hesitant to call it “catch” because of its lack of intensity. It’s the first time in five weeks that he’s thrown a baseball.
Surgery remains a possibility – even a probability, depending on how his elbow responds to Saturday’s work.
“We’re not going backward, so there is a sense of hope,” Mozeliak said. “It’s still too early to start weighing in that there is a likelihood of him coming back or not. … He is making a positive progression. It may all be for naught. We don’t want to get to July and then have that (surgical) outcome. As of right now, the (deadline) has moved.”
In the ninth inning Saturday, rookie Jermaine Curtis made his major-league debut as a surprise pinch hitter for one of the Cardinals leading hitters -- Matt Carpenter. The team's leadoff hitter was pulled back from the on-deck circle because he felt a pinch on his left side, along the oblique muscle.
"It tightened up on me a little bit," Carpenter said. "There in the ninth inning it was more of a precautionary move to make sure, to get me out of there in case I took a swing and it got worse. That's basically it."
Carpenter first felt the discomfort during his fourth at-bat of the game, and he continued to try and stretch and loosen the muscle while playing defense. Carpenter had a strained oblique last season, and the cold weather, especially late in the game Sunday, was one of the reasons the Cardinals were cautious.
Curtis, who was promoted from Class AAA on Friday, struck out.
Pirates starter Jonathan Sanchez received a six-game suspension and a fine from Major League Baseball on Saturday for “intentionally throwing” at Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig. Sanchez was ejected four batters into the game after his pitch nailed Craig, and afterward home plate umpire Tim Timmons said he was quick to eject Sanchez because his intent was clear and the pitch went in a “very dangerous area.” The commissioner’s office and discipline czar Joe Torre clearly agreed. Sanchez is appealing the penalty.
“There’s only one person who can judge intent and I’m not sure it’s Joe Torre,” Bucs manager Clint Hurdle said. “But that’s the job he’s got. I get that. At the end of the day, the only person who truly knows what happened is Jonathan.”
Asked Friday night if the league has instructed them to be more vigilant about those pitches, Timmons said it was entirely “situational.”
FREESE GETS BREAK
Third baseman David Freese continues to receive intermittent days off, but it’s not because manager Mike Matheny is trying to ease him back into games after starting the year on the disabled list. Freese received a day off Saturday to work on his swing after going zero-for-four Friday night and extending a one-for-11 dip that has his average at .190.
“Right now he’s just pressing,” said Matheny. “You can tell he was trying even after taking a good step forward. He needs some work, time to get your mind right.”
The Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy in Puerto Rico will have its first graduating class this spring. Beltran, who founded the high school to help prepare young men academically and physically for a shot at pro baseball, said all 35 members of the senior class have committed to a college for baseball.