Garcia rediscovers healthy dose of success

Cardinals lefty goes 8 strong innings to pin down Brewers in opener

Garcia rediscovers healthy dose of success

ST. LOUIS -- Five years have passed since Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia last completed the first half of a season uninterrupted by injury. That good health has brought normalcy to his role this year, yet Garcia has also spent much of these first three months rediscovering how to pitch with an uncompromised arm.

Garcia put the pieces together on Friday night and completed eight strong innings in the Cardinals' 7-1 victory over the Brewers. With a sinker/changeup combination that his manager described as "freakish" after the club snapped its seven-game home losing streak, Garcia kept all but one of his outs in the infield.

Matheny on win over Brewers

"That's the stuff we talk about that's different than everybody else," Mike Matheny added. "Jaime's stuff has got the ability, when he gets that right release point and everything is timed up, that you're going to see those awkward swings."

The start was Garcia's 16th this season, and with it he pushed his innings total to 96. Only once since debuting with the Cardinals in 2008 had Garcia reached those plateaus by July 1. He previously did so in 2011, his last full season.

Health has brought the 29-year-old a dose of rejuvenation, which has manifested itself in more strength. Garcia is throwing harder than ever before -- his fastball has averaged 90.6 mph this season -- but that's also led to some stretches in which the left-hander has felt out of sync.

"It's been a roller coaster," said Garcia, now 6-6 with a 3.74 ERA. "It's different to be healthy. Sometimes mechanics change a little bit because you feel too good and you're trying to do too much. It's something that I'm not used to."

That may seem paradoxical, but Garcia found an understanding opponent earlier this week while catching up with Royals starter Chris Young. Like Garcia, Young's career has been dotted with arm injuries. Young told Garcia he's had to navigate through the same unfamiliar waters.

"You're always used to having something, and we dealt with all that stuff for so long that your mechanics are going to change," Garcia said. "All of a sudden, you're throwing harder. You're pitching a little different. So you have to adapt to that new self."

Garcia's mechanics clicked on Friday, with the re-emergence of the changeup being a key factor in his dominance. Though his two longest outings of the season have now come against Milwaukee, Garcia downplayed the opponent as a reason for success.

Garcia induced 14 groundballs, which led to 16 outs and scattered four hits in his longest start since April 14. The Brewers advanced one runner into scoring position after Garcia wiggled out of a bases-loaded spot in the fourth. In the bottom of that inning, he contributed with an RBI single in the team's five-run frame.

"Right now, I'm excited where I'm at," Garcia said. "Obviously, I haven't had the first half I've wanted to have, but it's a long season."

And for the first time in many years, Garcia finally has the chance to be around for all of it.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.