JUPITER, Fla. -- Ace pitcher Adam Wainwright is done for 2011 and is expected to miss much of 2012 as well. St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak confirmed what the club believed a day earlier: Wainwright will undergo Tommy John ligament transfer surgery.
"I don't want to be melodramatic here, but you're losing an ace," Mozeliak said late Thursday morning as the Cardinals worked out. "It's not something you're going to replace overnight, but we have four capable pitchers who can step up.
"It's not as if we have no bullets. Everybody moves up one and now you have to fill the fifth spot."
Together with Chris Carpenter, Wainwright was a huge part of a Cardinals team expected to contend again in the NL Central. With Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook and a healthy Kyle Lohse, Mozeliak made clear that the club is not cashing in on 2011 before it even begins.
"As far as our expectations of the season, nothing changes," the GM said. "We still expect to be good. The talent level in the clubhouse is still very high."
The Cardinals first will look internally to fill the gaping void, with Kyle McClellan the odds-on favorite to move from the bullpen into the rotation. The club will take a look at several other pitchers in these early weeks of spring as well: Adam Ottavino, Brian Tallet, P.J. Walters, Lance Lynn and Brandon Dickson among them.
Miguel Batista could be in that mix as well. But it might make more sense for McClellan to step up and then Batista to fill his late-innings role.
Wainwright, 29, was second in NL Cy Young voting last season, won 20 games and pitched 230 1/3 innings. His wins ranked only behind Philadelphia's Roy Halladay, and his innings-pitched workload ranked only behind Halladay and Carpenter. Wainwright's career-low 2.42 ERA trailed only Florida's Josh Johnson.
Once they were eliminated from playoff contention, the Cardinals shut Wainwright down early last season, skipping his final start, when he complained of soreness near his elbow. The diagnosis came back forearm strain, and Wainwright was put on a rest-and-rehabilitate schedule.
He has a history of elbow problems going back to 1998, and they occurred again in 2004.
"We didn't think it was going to go away," Mozeliak said. "We always knew that there was this risk.
"I don't think he would have changed anything. He pitched very well with it."
The Cardinals just picked up Wainwright's two-year, $21 million option through 2013, but language in the deal allows them to void it if the right-hander is on the disabled list with an arm injury at the end of the 2011 season.
"News of this is so fresh, in terms of contractual obligations and 2012, we're just trying to get through the day," Mozeliak said. "We'll have time to reflect on that."
Speaking earlier in the day, manager Tony La Russa said, "It's much more unfortunate for Adam, and it's really tough on us. You make adjustments. One key thing is how deep you are.
If you're not deep, a hit like this can sink you."
Beginning this week, the Cardinals will work like crazy so that this devastating injury does not sink them for 2011.
It will not be easy.