(BaseballStL) — It’s been almost 365 days since Jaime Garcia pitched a game for the St. Louis Cardinals.
In fact, were it not for a day of rain, his comeback start would have been exactly one year from his last appearance for St. Louis.
Garcia’s final start in 2013 was a 5.1 inning appearance on May 17 against the Brewers, in which he took home his fifth win despite giving up six runs.
His season came to a premature close when it was discovered he had a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder. A surgery followed, and a season’s worth of recovery succeeded that. Then, pain in his shoulder cut short a promising spring in 2014. This time it would be treatable and Wednesday, Garcia found himself standing in the Cardinal clubhouse once again.
“It’s really exciting to be back and feel like you’re part of the team,” he said at his locker. “The last year has been a tough one, but I’m excited to be back.” Not only is he back, he was told he’ll be starting for the Cardinals in the fifth rotation spot.
The return was almost cut short again during rehab time spend in AA Springfield, when Garcia took a pitch off his elbow, numbing his pitching arm.
“It hit me in a pretty good spot, that pitch and actually caught my nerve a little bit because when they did Tommy John they moved my nerve up there,” he said, referencing his 2008 procedure. “It was a little scary when it happened.”
The X-Rays came back negative, but Garcia’s recovery timeline had been affected.
“The goal was to go to Springfield and make one start, maybe two. After that happened obviously it pushed things back a few days.”
He was able to rebound from the freak injury, making a rehab start of 74 pitches in AAA Memphis. It was a big jump, since his first outing only lasted 28. He would go five innings in that outing, striking out five and allowing three hits.
The lefty said his next outing was scheduled to be around 90 pitches, so he expects that’s the target for his St. Louis 2014 debut, which was moved back to Sunday because of the rain.
“Close to 95 I’d say in that ballpark,” said Mike Matheny. “Most of our starters have been around there anyhow when they’re finishing the game.”
Matheny also said Garcia’s scheduled bullpen session was moved back a day with the game being postponed, and he will now throw Wednesday as a final tuneup for his first start in a Cardinal uniform this season.
For Garcia, a couple seasons’ worth of pain had colored his mindset on the mound. Now, as he looks to return to the form that earned him a third place finish in 2010's Rookie of the Year voting, he says he changed his focus away from dealing with discomfort.
“It’s one of those things where obviously you don’t have it all figured out, but it’s good,” he said. “You go out there and think about pitching, about getting hitters out not just how bad your shoulder’s going to hurt.”
The idea of being 100 percent is an elusive one for a pitcher, especially one that has had multiple surgeries. Because of that, Garcia has less interest in finding the right number, and more in finding his confidence.
“You’re not looking to be a percentage wise to go out there, the main thing is [to be] somewhere that allows you to go out and compete and I’m at a point where I know I can give us a chance,” he said.
Those words are music to Matheny’s ears, who when asked what a success for Garcia would look like, replied, “a win.”
“This isn’t a rehab start. Let’s go compete,” he said. “We know when he’s right he’s tough on any lineup.”
Garcia is 39-25 with a 3.45 ERA for the Cardinals.