JUPITER, Fla. -- With an 80-pitch simulated game on Tuesday, Jaime Garcia passed another necessary endurance test while pushing the Cardinals closer to having to make a decision about his season-opening status.
Manager Mike Matheny, who observed the off-day outing along with several of his coaches, acknowledged that the Cardinals entered Spring Training anticipating they would break camp without Garcia. That was because most expected Garcia to need more than a month of Grapefruit League games to prove his health and durability.
Garcia, who has reached each new spring benchmark without any setbacks, may be altering those plans.
"Our thought process is to keep pushing to where he'd need to be a starting pitcher in this league, and see how his body and everything responds," Matheny said. "He's responding well. … We still have a ways to go. But what he's doing certainly looks good."
Though he didn't do it in an official game, Garcia is the first St. Louis starter to throw 80 pitches in an outing. With those pitches on Tuesday, he recorded 20 outs, walked one, allowed three singles and one triple. Unofficially, 58 of those pitches were strikes.
"Obviously, with everything that I've gone through, there is a little bit of doubt in your mind not knowing how it's going to be when you test it out going 80 pitches," Garcia said afterward. "But I tried to do my best not to think about that. I'm trying to take it one day at a time and focus on each day and what I need to do to get better for that day. I feel like ever since I got here and started throwing bullpens, up to this point, things have been getting better and better."
The Cards manufactured situations for Garcia to work through in the simulated game, and they also purposefully extended innings. With Minor Leaguers Rowan Wick, Michael Ohlman and Steve Bean rotating as the hitters, Garcia recorded five outs in each of his first two innings on the mound. He faced another seven batters in the third.
Matheny said the intent was to have Garcia throw longer innings to see how he responded as he tired toward the end. By the end of three frames, Garcia had thrown 59 pitches. The three hardest-hit balls against him came over his final 21 pitches. Still, Garcia ended his outing by inducing a first-pitch double play and a routine groundout.
"I was real excited about the way things went, especially the last 20 pitches," Garcia said. "I was still maintaining and feeling better, even toward the end. That's obviously a real exciting thing."
The Cardinals can have Garcia pitch on turn next week if they want to push him even deeper. With Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales also still making a pitch for that fifth rotation spot, the Cards will have to find some of them innings on a back field in order to ensure everyone builds up to a starter's pitch count.