Nick Punto might need season-ending elbow surgery

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Bad news for the first-place Cardinals.

Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch brings word that 33-year-old utilityman Nick Punto is headed back to the disabled list and could be facing season-ending elbow surgery.

Punto has spent more time on rehabbing injuries this season than he’s spent on the active roster, and he air-mailed an awkward throw from third base in the late innings of Saturday’s win against the Reds.

The former Twin has been fairly productive when healthy, batting .267/.343/.389 with eight extra-base hits and 12 RBI in 90 at-bats. And manager Tony La Russa has used him frequently as a defensive replacement for some of the Cardinals’ flimsier infielders.

Albert Pujols launched the Rebirds back into sole possession of first place on Saturday in Cincinnati. The Cards are one game up in a weak division and boast an impressive offense. But this is a setback.