Garcia having special season when healthy

Garcia having special season when healthy

ST. LOUIS -- Even as the list of ailments lengthened, the Cardinals always spoke with unwavering conviction about Jaime Garcia's potential. Coaches, evaluators and teammates were persistent in their praise, describing Garcia's ability as unique and his stuff as "different" -- in a good sense, that is.

The question, however, was always how often would they get to see it? Elbow surgery, shoulder surgery, thoracic outlet surgery and other nagging injuries left the Cardinals too often wondering what could be instead of marveling at what was.

But the home dugout enjoyed the latter on Friday, watching Garcia throw 8 1/3 innings before walking off the mound to a standing ovation. An inherited runner would score before the game ended as a 3-1 Cardinals victory over the Marlins, but it hardly marred the left-hander's night.

Asked afterward when he had previously felt as good as he did on the mound Friday, Garcia answered boldly.

"Never," he said. "I've never felt as good as I feel. I've pitched through a lot of injuries for a lot of time. Maybe [I felt this good] right after my Tommy John [surgery] six years ago."

This season has been a microcosm of Garcia's career. He missed the first six weeks due to a lingering shoulder issue, and then sat out another month with a groin strain that was initially expected to sideline him just for a few days.

Yet, when healthy, he's been terrific. Garcia's 1.57 ERA is the lowest among the team's starters, and he's averaged nearly seven innings over his 11 starts. He became the team's first starter to pitch into the ninth inning, and he fell just two outs shy of completing the first shutout by a Cardinals lefty since his last one, back in 2011. He has yet to allow more than three earned runs in an outing -- and has done that just twice.

"He's just had some injuries that haven't cooperated, but I think there is a lot to be said about him mentally pushing through as well as physically trying to get his body right," manager Mike Matheny said. "He's been great when it's been able to work out. I know it's frustrating for him, because he'd like to see that for 30 starts."

Garcia did not serve up an extra-base hit to the Marlins and kept them from advancing a runner into scoring position until the seventh. Matheny sent him out for the chance at a shutout before removing the lefty when he hit one batter and walked the next one with one out.

Even still, Garcia exited with a pitch count of just 96.

"I hate to go back to the same thing, but when you're healthy, you're able to work on mechanics and watch video and make little adjustments," Garcia said. "The bottom line is I'm healthy and I'm competing."

Afterward, Matt Carpenter, who helped support Garcia with a two-RBI night, compared Garcia's pitch movement and deception to that of Francisco Liriano, who has given the Cardinals' offense plenty of fits over the last three seasons. Others have felt that same frustration against Garcia, who looks like a pitcher who won't be slowed by anyone but himself.

"You go out there with a healthy Jaime and you never know what you could end up watching," Matheny said. "Just watching their good hitters take the kind of at-bats they take against him, you can just see that when we talk about something looking different, it's unlike a lot of pitching they're going to see all season long. That's what makes him special."

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