VIERA, Fla. -- An inflamed right elbow ligament has forced Rafael Furcal to cease all baseball activity indefinitely and leaves the Cardinals with growing uncertainty about their shortstop situation just four weeks before Opening Day.
After alerting the Cardinals to increasing pain in his elbow, Furcal underwent a MRI exam on Friday. It revealed inflammation -- not a tear -- though Furcal is scheduled to seek a second opinion on his elbow early this week.
That consultation is likely to be with orthopedist Dr. James Andrews.
Furcal has thrown with limitations since reporting to Spring Training, though he made what looked like a step forward when the switch-hitter resumed swinging from the left side last week. Adding that stress to his ailing right elbow, however, appears to have been too much.
Since taking several at-bats in a "B" game on Thursday, Furcal has not felt right.
"He went in a bad direction," manager Mike Matheny said before the team's game against the Nationals on Sunday. "We know that he's done quite a bit of rehab, and to go backwards isn't necessarily a good sign. Right now, he's having pain just standing around."
Furcal suffered a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament on Aug. 30, that ended his 2012 season. Doctors did not recommend surgery at the time, and Furcal followed through with a program of rest and rehab over the winter.
He provided positive progress reports to the club throughout the offseason, but never did reach a full recovery. The Cardinals checked up on Furcal in person twice, general manager John Mozeliak said, once in November and again in December.
"You try to take in what you know about progression points along the way and it indicated that things were looking positive," Mozeliak said. "Having said that, though, we knew he hadn't tested it. We knew he wasn't in an aggressive throwing program. Rest is what they wanted him to do."
Furcal, 35, is in the final season of a two-year, $14-million contract he signed in Dec. 2011.
He arrived in camp optimistic that he would be completely healthy by the team's April 1 opener. But the steps backward started almost immediately. Furcal never threw at maximum effort, and he had to stop swinging left-handed because of pain that he said was due to a bone spur that is actually helping to protect the ligament.
The Cardinals are not rushing to a conclusion about what lies ahead for Furcal. With no ligament tear evident, surgery may not be an obvious or prescribed course of action.
"I don't know how to look at this as good or bad," Mozeliak said. "Sometimes, medically, being in the grey area is the worst. You don't know exactly what to do because there's not a clear answer. [Some people] are acting like the chapter is written, and we don't even know that yet."
For as long as Furcal remains sidelined, the Cardinals will have to turn to Pete Kozma and Ronny Cedeno to handle the duties at short. The organization could look for a replacement from outside, though Mozeliak did not make it sound as if the club feels such action is necessary.
"It doesn't change anything for us," Mozeliak said. "We anticipated that it was going to be a problem. That's why we did what we did this offseason."
What the Cardinals did was sign Cedeno to a one-year deal in late January to provide additional insurance at the position. He has been an everyday shortstop in the past, but carries a pedestrian .247 career batting average and .970 fielding percentage at short.
Kozma took over for an injured Furcal late in 2012 and did well in his place. In his first opportunity to play regularly in the Majors, Kozma hit .333 with 14 RBIs in 26 games down the stretch. He drove in another seven runs in the postseason.
If the Cardinals wanted another option, they could also consider Daniel Descalso, who is currently in the mix for a starting job at second. Descalso started 20 games at short last season.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.