Garcia shows he remains a big part of fifth-starter competition

Garcia shows he remains a big part of fifth-starter competition

JUPITER, Fla. -- Jaime Garcia not only seemed to keep pace with Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales in the rotation competition. But in showing flashes of his old, healthy self on Friday in the Cardinals 8-2 win over the Orioles, he reminded the Cardinals of how valuable a rotation piece he can be.

After watching four strong innings from Garcia, manager Mike Matheny described the lefty's pitch movement as "freakish" -- in a good sense, of course. Garcia garnered five strikeouts, four of which were swinging, and retired the final nine batters he faced.

"We saw sinkers in the dirt, guys are swinging and missing," Matheny said. "That's just different stuff than anybody else has. When he's right, the ball is coming out of his hand like it was today. He's no picnic for any lineup."

The Cardinals have never questioned Garcia's ability. Several within the organization have long said that he has the better natural movement on his pitches than any other pitcher on the team. The hindrance, though, has been health. Over the last two seasons, Garcia has made 16 starts.

He has so far shown himself healthy this spring and is already seeing some tangible benefits from the thoracic outlet procedure that he had last summer. Garcia said his slider is moving and curveball is biting a little better than they were pre-surgery.

But aside from showing command of his pitches, Garcia still has to prove himself reliable for the long haul.

"I'm not really thinking about anything else other than the attitude when I come into the ballpark, my work ethic, and when I'm on the mound, to execute pitches," Garcia said after his 50-pitch performance. "I know everything else will be taken care of. I just have to adapt to my body and basically come in and do everything in my control to get ready for the next start. I feel like at this point in my career, all those little things will make a difference."

The Cardinals may have a nice problem on their hands if Garcia, Martinez and Gonzales each continue to impress. Gonzales and Garcia were the first two pitchers in camp to make a four-inning start, both of them reaching that benchmark despite being limited to around 50 pitches.

Matheny has indicated that the club is content going until the final days of camp to determine where each of the three fits into the roster picture. Each has enough time to make three or four more spring appearances before that decision.

"To be honest with you, I'm not thinking about that at all," Garcia said of the competition. "As for the two other guys competing for a spot, they're great teammates, great guys. They're doing everything the right way, so I wish them nothing but the best. I'm competing and I'm preparing myself for every single time I get a chance to pitch and not taking anything for granted."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB and like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.