(BaseballStL) — It was a long road back, but Jaime Garcia’s return to the mound was a strong one, despite the ugly ending.
In his return to action for the Cardinals, the 27-year-old went seven innings, allowing five hits and four runs on just 83 pitches.
It was perhaps the most efficient outing from a Cardinal pitcher not named Adam Wainwright, and it kept the Cardinals in the game and left them with a lead heading into the ninth.
Most of the damage was done by Justin Upton and Freddie Freeman, who combined for four of the five hits against Garcia. Freeman opened the contest with a solo shot in the first, and Upton added his own in the fourth.
“Obviously the solo homers and there were some hard hit balls,” Mike Matheny said after the game. “But for the most part when he was down, staying out of the middle and staying ahead in the count, he was making very very good pitches and getting some quick outs.”
Garcia followed both homers with 1-2-3 innings, holding the rest of the lineup to 1-for-19 on the day.
Perhaps it was that dominance that led Mike Matheny to his decision to keep the lefty in the game when three straight Atlanta hits (Jason Heyward, Upton and Freeman) erased the Cardinal lead in the sixth inning to tie the game at four. Through the part of the order that dogged him all day, and following a visit to the mound, Garcia squared the plate to face Chris Johnson.
“He’s got great stuff and he was in a good position, you could see by how the rest of the lineup was reacting that if he makes good pitches he’s going to get outs and he ended up getting those outs for us,” Matheny said.
Garcia responded with a double play ball, ending the inning. He would pitch a hitless seventh, eventually being pinch hit for in the bottom half. For a pitcher coming back from shoulder surgery, it was a tremendous show of support for Matheny to leave him in the game in a tight spot in his return outing. Garcia would say little of the moment after the game.
“I’m just trying to focus on making pitches when I’m on the mound,” he said. “Until he takes the ball out of my hand, I’m trying to make good pitches.”
Of his return overall, the sole starting southpaw in the Cardinal rotation was tight-lipped, noting only the usual butterflies in the first.
“I think overall it was alright. Not too bad,” he said, still upset from the loss. “I made some mistakes to some very good hitters and paid the consequences.”
Consequences aside, it was a strong outing for Garcia, making discussions on the rotation and the fate of a healing Joe Kelly more uncertain.
“We’ve been looking forward to getting all of our guys healthy,” Matheny said. “To be able to have Jaime back and throwing like he did today, he’s going to be a nice addition to what we’ve got.”
There is no timetable for Kelly’s return, and barring any setback for Garcia following the game, it would look like the fifth rotation spot will be his for the foreseeable future. His next start would be on the road in Cincinnati.