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Pitcher Matt Garza out indefinitely, perhaps for season

Matt Garzhasn’t pitched since leaving with stiffness his right elbow July 21 St. Louis. | Gene J. Puskar~AP

Matt Garza hasn’t pitched since leaving with stiffness in his right elbow July 21 in St. Louis. | Gene J. Puskar~AP

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Updated: September 8, 2012 6:18AM

SAN DIEGO — They couldn’t sign him to an extension. They couldn’t trade him.

And now the Cubs can’t even get right-hander Matt Garza back on the mound to lend some semblance of big-league continuity to a trade-ravaged starting rotation.

A team that lost its sixth consecutive game with a 2-0 loss Monday to the San Diego Padres — one that features a roster more than half-filled with players who have been in the minors this season — took a hit on multiple levels when new X-rays Monday revealed a ‘‘stress reaction’’ in the back of Garza’s pitching elbow.

Garza, who hasn’t pitched since experiencing stiffness in the elbow during his start July 21 against the St. Louis Cardinals, was shut down indefinitely and is in danger of missing the rest of the season.

The injury amounts to an irritation at the tip of one of the bones in the elbow, and the Cubs said Garza’s status will be re-evaluated homestand-by-homestand. General manager Jed Hoyer said Garza won’t be allowed to pick up a baseball for at least two weeks.

With right-hander Ryan Dempster and left-hander Paul Maholm traded last week, Garza’s injury leaves the Cubs with only one healthy pitcher who has started for one full, continuous season in the majors. And that guy, Chris Volstad, has spent most of this season in the minors — and hasn’t won a big-league game in more than a year.

‘‘We’ll do everything we can to keep on running out a solid rotation,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘That means, both internally and externally, we’ll be looking.’’

For now, it means a major-league debut Tuesday for left-hander Brooks Raley. He will take Garza’s rotation spot after pitching well enough for Class AAA Iowa to be named the Cubs’ minor-league pitcher of the month in July. Raley will join a rotation that features right-handers Jeff Samardzija, Volstad and Justin Germano and left-hander Travis Wood (4-8), who took the loss despite pitching six solid innings Monday.

‘‘We knew going [into the season] there was a good chance this was going to happen, and that day has come,’’ said manager Dale Sveum, whose lineup was half-filled with rookies who opened the season at Iowa. ‘‘The players have to perform. At the same time, they have to develop. It’s just where we are in the organization.’’

Garza’s injury obviously accelerates that process for some pitchers. And if he doesn’t make a successful return this season, it might limit the Cubs’ ability to revive trade discussions for him during the offseason.

‘‘That’s the last thing we’re thinking about,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘We’re just trying to get this guy healthy. He’s likely to be a member of the Cubs in 2013, and we’re excited to have him.’’

Hoyer said he wouldn’t rule out Garza returning at some point this season, mostly because Garza is expected to push for it. But Hoyer said he also is anticipating having to rein in the high-energy Garza’s rehab activity.

Garza threw a full bullpen session Saturday and said he felt strong and would be ready to pitch Tuesday. But the stiffness returned when he tried to play catch Sunday, and he was sent home to be examined by team doctors.

‘‘He felt really good on Saturday,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘I think that’s probably the surprise of it.’’

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