With Chris Carpenter likely sidelined for the season, the Cardinals desperately need to rely on their other starters to pick up the slack.
Adam Wainwright—the staff ace—figures to hold his own. He can’t win all 162 games single-handedly, however.
Jaime Garcia's career as a big-league starter has been plagued by injury and inconsistency.
He underwent complete elbow reconstructive surgery in 2008 and came back fully healthy in 2010, when he compiled a record of 13-8, a 2.70 ERA and finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.
“Nothing can compare with that year, being 23 years old and coming back from Tommy John surgery,” Garcia said, courtesy of ESPN.com. “I didn’t have the experience at the major league level every day. I had to compete.”
Compete he did.
In 2011, Garcia helped guide the Cardinals to their 11th World Series title in franchise history.
Since then, he has stumbled; his career has spiraled downward.
Last season, the 26-year-old lefty compiled a mark of 7-7 in just 20 starts. He was sidelined between June 5 and Aug. 19 after suffering a strained left shoulder. He then lasted just two innings in Game 2 of the NL Division Series against Washington and was eventually taken off the roster after enduring a strained rotator cuff.
Instead of going under the knife, Garcia opted for extensive rehab. Coming back from Tommy John surgery and recovering from last season’s woes have encouraged him to look at the big picture.
“That was a pretty tough thing to do to be able to stay focused,” Garcia said, courtesy of ESPN.com. “After going through that and having the experience and just going through what I did last year, I’m not going to say it’s easy, but it’s easier to go out there and focus on the things I can control.”
It's vital for Garcia to bounce back after an injury-plagued 2012.
In the midst of spring training, things are looking positive for the pitcher and his left shoulder.
“They told me there are no limitations [this spring] as far as I know,” Garcia said, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I’m ready for no limitations. I’m ready to come in and be like a normal guy.”
Over the offseason, the Cardinals received encouraging reports on Garcia’s progress.
Pitching coach Derek Lilliquist got his first chance to watch Garcia on the mound earlier this month, and was impressed with his physical condition.
“You’re curious to see what guys have done in the offseason and he’s obviously put forth the effort to prepare for spring training,” Lilliquist said, courtesy of the Post-Dispatch. “You look at how his arm is working, what kind of shape he’s in—the overall total package. Just based on seeing him throw one time he looks healthy. In talking to him, mentally he’s in a good spot. He’s excited about the year moving forward and looks to make every start every fifth day.”
Garcia will more than likely be the Cardinals’ No. 2 starter behind Wainwright. And there is little room for error.
The Cardinals need Garcia to be a reliable arm every fifth day. They need him to produce quality starts and give the offense a chance to put runs on the scoreboard. They need him to go deep into games to preserve their bullpen.
Garcia can’t afford to revert back to last season, especially on the road, where he’s historically had trouble.
Over the past three seasons, Garcia has compiled a record of 19-10, with a 2.33 ERA in 38 starts at Busch Stadium. He’s worked over 247 innings, and has notched 204 strikeouts to just 63 walks.
On the road, Garcia is a completely different pitcher. In 42 starts over the past three seasons, he is just 14-12 with an ERA of 4.46. He’s worked a combined 232 innings. The most glaring statistic is that he’s allowed 21 home runs on the road over that span, compared to just 10 at home.
For Garcia to be effective, he needs to be consistently sharp for the Cardinals. As the second starter, he will have to deal with more pressure to get the job done. He’s certainly capable of doing so physically. Mentally, he needs to be crisper.
As far as his recovery, Garcia says his shoulder is finally healthy.
“You can’t even compare it,” Garcia said, courtesy of the Post-Dispatch. “You can’t even describe it. If you’re injured your mechanics are off, everything is off. You’re not healthy. Now I am. I’m feeling good. When you feel that way everything changes. Everything is different. When you’re injured you’re not capable of doing what you normally feel you can. So far, it’s been good. I have felt good.”
Garcia will need to be "good" for the Cardinals to prosper in 2013, or else his career will continue to trend in the wrong direction.