St. Louis rotation suddenly shaky

Remember when the Cardinals were overwhelming favorites to win another division title? Well, they're not so overwhelming anymore. Not with Brad Penny down for a few weeks and Kyle Lohse down for ... well, nobody seems to know but this doesn't sound good. Joe Strauss:

    Cardinals starting pitcher Kyle Lohse is suffering from a rare condition that either requires surgery or necessitates a permanent role change, say sources familiar with the diagnosis given Lohse on Wednesday by an Anaheim, Calif., specialist.

    Hand and wrist specialist Dr. Steven S. Shin met with Lohse for less than an hour at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Clinic about 90 minutes north of San Diego. Shin found Lohse to be suffering from exertional compartment syndrome, a condition in which the sheath covering a muscle in the pitcher's forearm fails to allow it to expand.


    The Cardinals appear increasingly likely to examine trade and free agent options should Lohse indeed be lost for a significant portion of the season. Rookie P.J. Walters is scheduled to make this afternoon's start against the Padres in place of Brad Penny, who is on the disabled list with a strained muscle in his upper back.

    Manager Tony La Russa insisted before Wednesday night's game that no decision had been made on who will inherit Saturday's start against the Chicago Cubs. Adam Ottavino could be promoted from Class AAA Memphis to make his major-league debut, or Blake Hawksworth or Kyle McClellan could be assigned a spot start.

None of these guys are jokes. Before this season, Hawksworth, Ottavino and Walters were ranked by Baseball America as the Cardinals' 8th-, 11th-, and 23rd-best prospects. But Hawksworth doesn't have a reliable third pitch, Ottavino's got a 4.62 ERA in 35 Triple-A starts, and Walters hits 90 on the speed gun only after a couple of bowls of Wheaties.*

* One thing I don't know: Why isn't Lance Lynn a candidate, too? He entered this season just behind Jaime Garcia on the prospects list, and has a 3.31 ERA in nine starts with Memphis.)

Which isn't to suggest they can't pitch. But it's hard to win with two Triple-A starters in your rotation. One, sure; lots of teams have a questionable No. 5 starter. But if Brad Penny doesn't come back strong in June, the Cardinals are likely to get into the Roy Oswalt / Cliff Lee sweepstakes, and hard. Unfortunately, the Cardinals don't have a great deal of talent in their farm system, so putting together an attractive package might be problematic. They probably just have to hope Penny's healthy and cobble together starts as necessary.