JUPITER, Fla. -- Jaime Garcia will travel back to St. Louis on Sunday to have an MRI on his left shoulder, which began to bother him again this week during his bullpen sessions. Even if the MRI comes back clean, this setback likely won't leave Garcia enough time to get himself ready by the first week of the regular season.
That means an eight-man competition for five starting spots has, for the time being, been reduced to seven.
"I think all of us have been around this enough to know that [injuries happen], and it shouldn't completely devastate you," manager Mike Matheny said. "You need to have some contingency plans in place of what it might look like. ... We're fortunate that we've got plenty of guys ready to compete right now, and we'll just watch how they continue to progress."
The resurfacing shoulder discomfort is a discouraging development for Garcia, who reported to Spring Training relieved to be healthy again. After pitching through shoulder pain from 2012-13, Garcia chose to address the issue with season-ending surgery last May. He hoped that would allow him to come into this season uninhibited, and until this week, he was meeting each new challenge without a problem.
The surgery, which was performed by Cardinals team physician George Paletta, fixed a tear in Garcia's rotator cuff and labrum. Garcia began the throwing portion of his rehab process late in the season and was actually far enough along to throw batting practice in October. That allowed Garcia to follow a normal offseason program.
Garcia had thrown three bullpen sessions since the start of Spring Training and was scheduled for a fourth on Saturday. That was postponed indefinitely when Garcia alerted the medical staff to the discomfort.
"It's just been something where he hasn't felt quite right the last 48 hours," general manager John Mozeliak said. "From a medical standpoint, no one thought it was that serious. But it wasn't improving. And given how early it is in camp, there's no reason to try and work through something if it might be something larger. We think it's just better to get some resolution and have him seen back in St. Louis."
The Cardinals expect to publicly announce the results of the exam on Monday afternoon.
"I know if I was in that spot, I'd want to get looked at," Matheny said. "I'd just like to get some answers from the medical team and then after that, figure out what it looks like."
Asked if he had a gut feeling on what Paletta may find, Mozeliak said: "I feel like it's always best to react once you sort of know all the facts."
The Cardinals, who have lost a key member of their pitching staff each of the past three Spring Trainings, are seemingly set up as well as one could hope to handle Garcia's absence. Adam Wainwright remains the ace of the rotation, and some four-man combination of Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly, Carlos Martinez and Tyler Lyons will follow him.
The Cardinals were intentional about retaining their young pitching this winter so that they could boast such depth. Now, it's moving from a luxury to a necessity.
"Obviously, when you think about all the talk and banter about how much pitching we have, it certainly shows you that you might not have enough," Mozeliak said. "It definitely helps to have that depth to tap into."
Lyons is the only lefty in that bunch, though Matheny said it is not imperative that the season open with a southpaw in the rotation. The Cardinals pitched most of the second half of last season with a rotation of right-handers.
That's not to say, though, that the Cardinals were not excited to get Garcia back into the mix. He was a third-place finisher in the National League Rookie of the Year vote in 2010 after going 13-8 with a 2.70 ERA. He won 13 games again in '11, while posting a 3.56 ERA in 32 starts. Even when compromised by shoulder issues in the following two seasons, Garcia had a respectable 3.81 ERA in 29 games.
Garcia's setback does not solely affect the starting rotation competition, either; it will also alter the bullpen complexion. The Cardinals anticipated bumping as many as two starters into relief roles once the rotation was set. Now, there may be just one such move.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB.