Since return from injury, Garcia keeps stepping up

Lefty has tossed six quality starts to the tune of a 1.76 ERA this season

Since return from injury, Garcia keeps stepping up

MINNEAPOLIS -- Jaime Garcia made just nine starts in 2013. Last year, that number dipped to seven, as he had season-ending thoracic outlook syndrome surgery in July. So, trying to predict what to expect out of him might not have been easy for the Cardinals.

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But they're certainly pleased with what they've gotten. Garcia gave up four hits and no runs while taking a no-decision Thursday in the Cardinals' 2-1 loss, but he looked sharp in six-plus innings.

"Right now, he's throwing like we actually kind of anticipated," manager Mike Matheny said before the game. "That's kind of a bold statement, because he's been that good, but that's truly the kind of pitcher he can be when he's healthy and in a good frame of mind, and that usually goes hand in hand -- physically and mentally."

Garcia tossed his sixth quality start in as many chances and lowered his ERA to 1.76. The lefty hasn't gotten much run support this season, though, and Thursday was no different. But he said he felt good on the mound and was able to keep the ball down in a pitchers' duel against Mike Pelfrey.

"[Garcia] really had a good feel for really everything," Matheny said. "Fastball was sinking on both sides of the plate, he had a little bit of a cutter today, his changeup was plus, he was smart with his curveball. It's just a shame we couldn't make more of it."

Matheny went to his bullpen with two runners on and no outs in the seventh. After a sac bunt and an intentional walk, reliever Seth Maness escaped the bases-loaded jam with a double play.

Maness induces huge double play

"If I were [Garcia], I'd be pretty confident right now," Matheny said. "Every time he's going out there, he's taking us deep into the game and not giving [up] many opportunities."

In a season in which the Cardinals saw their ace, Adam Wainwright, go down with a left Achilles tear, Garcia's contributions have been even more important.

And coming back from an injury of his own, they've been even more impressive, too.

"Injuries are tough. It's part of the game, but to be able to come back and step in the way [Garcia has] been asked to step in against good pitchers, matching up against other team's No. 1s at times, it's huge," right fielder Jason Heyward said.

All three of Garcia's losses have been hard-luck, as he's given up two runs or fewer in seven innings in each.

"I'm not going to lie to you guys, there's been a couple games that probably don't feel the best, but it's part of pitching," Garcia said. "I think the biggest thing [is] that I've been able to keep my emotions down and stay in the game and just compete."

Betsy Helfand is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.