NEW YORK -- The Cardinals may have been seeking better than the series split they got with Thursday's 5-0 loss to the Mets. But they departed New York with potentially a bigger long-term find.
The search for a fifth starter turned to Jaime Garcia, who, making his first start in 11 months, went seven innings while flashing the movement that has long made his pitches so hard for hitters to pick up. Though Garcia had to tiptoe around five walks and five hits, the 102-pitch effort only boosted the Cardinals' optimism that the left-hander could be a fit in what has been a glaring rotation hole.
"We have had a couple starters in this spot throw close to 100 pitches and not get us out of the third or the fourth," manager Mike Matheny said. "The fact that he was able to throw seven for us, that means that he was good, and he kept us in the game. Jaime's stuff looked right. It was good to have him back."
Evaluators inside and outside the organization have long pointed to Garcia as having the best natural ability of anyone on the staff. The unusual movement he gets on his pitches -- particularly, the sinker -- generates swings-and-misses on balls that don't end up anywhere near the strike zone. He toyed with New York's offense in that way several times Thursday.
That unharnessed movement also contributed to the high walk total, this being the third time in Garcia's career that he walked five. But he erased baserunners with efficiency, inducing three ground-ball double plays and getting another with the help of Randal Grichuk's defensive gem in center.
"When you have a sinker like that, you can have a guy on first and you can get a ground ball out of the next guy and turn a double play," catcher Tony Cruz said. "I think the biggest thing about it is [the movement is] so late. That's why you see a lot of mishits and a lot of ground balls."
Garcia's fourth walk of the game cost him a run in the fourth. Lucas Duda smashed a solo homer in the sixth, as well. Garcia finished that inning with 88 pitches but was sent back out in the seventh. He came up with his first clean inning of the game, proving he could maintain his arm strength that deep.
"I felt fine," Garcia said. "I didn't even know how many pitches I threw. I was just trying to compete and make pitches until they took me out of the game. It was as good as it can be."
Unlike recent weeks, when the Cardinals have reevaluated that unclaimed rotation spot after each ensuing spot start, the club has hope of a more permanent answer. The key, of course, is that he stays healthy.
"It was a huge deal," Garcia said of finishing the long road back from injury. "There was some excitement before the game, but I tried to treat it like any other game. I tried to do my best to keep us in the game."