JUPITER, Fla. -- While much of Jaime Garcia's Spring Training objective was to prove his health and durability, he's simultaneously reminding the Cardinals of why they were once so high on his potential.
Continuing to flash the sort of pitch movement that manager Mike Matheny describes as "freakish," Garcia struck out another seven batters in his four-inning start during Thursday's 7-2 loss to the Mets. That gives the lefty 12 strikeouts over his last two outings, covering eight innings
With a total of 13 punchouts this spring, Garcia is the only Cardinals starter with more than eight. And perhaps most notable about the seven he notched Thursday was that all were swinging.
"When you're getting strikeouts," Garcia said afterward, "it's a good sign of the ball moving and doing what you want it to do."
"When he's in the zone, the ball is dancing and he can keep it on the plate," added Matheny. "It's pretty crazy ball movement when you're watching guys turn around on a fastball and asking, 'What was that?' That just talks about his stuff."
The strikeouts, along with several deep counts, did keep Garcia from being especially efficient, and he pointed that out as a deficiency that he wants to correct. It took the left-hander 72 pitches to navigate through the four innings; he finished four innings last week on 50 pitches.
"Even guys I didn't strike out, I was going 2-2 and 3-2," Garcia said. "Those are the ones that I have to stay away from. But again, this is just the first couple games of coming back from what I've had. But I'm going to continue doing everything I can to make that better."
There is enough time remaining in the spring schedule for Garcia to make another three starts. There may not be room in the rotation, however. Depending on how the Cardinals structure the workload for their seven Major League rotation candidates still in camp, Garcia may have to continue building up his innings on the back fields or by piggybacking another starter.
While the Cardinals are encouraged by what they've seen out of Garcia so far, any excitement about his potential contributions in 2015 continue to be cloaked with cautiousness.
"It's one of those injuries that you don't really have all the certainty of," Matheny said, referencing Garcia's return from thoracic outlet surgery. "I think it's more of a hope [he's healthy] at this point. You go out and watch each outing and compare what it looks like to the previous one and hope that it keeps getting better and he keeps getting stronger. But we don't know exactly how it's going to play out."