As the Cardinals filtered into Jupiter, FL in February, Jaime Garcia was the last name the field staff, the front office, and the fan base wanted to discuss. Sure, he was there. Yes, he was “healthy.” But no, he wouldn’t factor into the rotation in St. Louis for months yet, if at all.
This was a guy who’d shown flashes of brilliance – he had a sub-3.00 ERA in 28 starts in 2010, leading many to believe he was the post-Chris Carpenter future. Unfortunately, this was also a guy who, between elbows, shoulders, and pinched nerves, spent as much time on the disabled list as on the active roster. Tommy John surgery, rotator cuff and torn labrum surgery, thoracic outlet syndrome surgery … Garcia had become a walking billboard for Dr. Andrews and the team medical staff. (Not a resounding endorsement there, Doc. But I digress.)
Many who had followed the Garcia story – myself included – were, quite simply, over it by the time he reported to Spring Training. The Cardinals had Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, John Lackey, Carlos Martinez, and Marco Gonzales vying for the five rotation spots. Garcia and his $9.2 million contract was essentially dead weight.
Then, he started to pitch. The narrative began to change. The “He’s going to need time to get back to where he was, and we’ll take it very slow to ensure his continued health” company line was thwarted by just how ready Garcia looked. Sure, 9.1 innings of spring ball isn’t enough to supplant one of the expected starting five, but it was more than enough to remember just how torturous the love/hate relationship with Garcia can be.
Look, there’s not question that when Jaime is healthy, he’s one of the most impressive lefties in the game. He’d give the righty-heavy Cardinals rotation a different look. And when Wainwright went down (and Gonzales, too, was injured), he became the “next man up” upon whom very few were ready to depend.
But, there he was. On May 21, 2015 – more than a year removed from his last Major League appearance – he became the guy tasked with taking the place of the Cardinal ace.
Bets were placed, jokes were made, expectations were tempered. This couldn’t go well. This guy had broken himself, and our hearts too many times already. No one would fall for his tricks again.
Seven starts later, and … well … I’m falling. Hard. And I’m not the only one.
I forgot how much I missed healthy Jaime Garcia. Man, he's dynamic.
— stlCupofJoe (@stlCupofJoe) June 25, 2015
Jaime Garcia is a stud
— Bobby Toppins (@GQmoty) June 25, 2015
Jaime Garcia has been otherworldly this year. #STLCards
— Mason Whitman (@thisismasonwhit) June 25, 2015
Screw the Phoenix, the rising of Jaime Garcia is shocking!! #STLCards
— AJ Blade (@Gunnerdust) June 25, 2015
My mouth is agape in awe over what Jaime is doing for this ballclub. Unreal and perfectly timed.
— Keene on MLB (@KeeneMLB) June 25, 2015
If Jaime Garcia remains a stud in 2015.. Look out. #STLCards
— Rodney (@KnuppelRodney) June 25, 2015
If his 1.69 ERA or his 0.88 WHIP isn’t enticing enough, perhaps his well-below MLB average 1.31 BB/9, 3.02 FIP, or .237 BABIP can sway you. In 48.0 innings, Garcia has walked 7 (five of which came in his season debut) and struck out 32. While his W-L record isn’t earth-shattering (3-3 after earning the victory Wednesday in Miami), that’s a silly stat anyway. Not silly, though, is that Garcia has seven quality starts in seven games.
While those numbers are remarkable MLB-wide, perhaps his most valuable quality for the Cardinals’ sake is that he’s consistently pitched deep into games. Expecting fill-in starters and rookies to cover 200+ Adam Wainwright innings is a big ask, to say the least. Garcia averaging seven strong every five days not only strengthens the rotation, but it also solidifies the structure and integrity of the bullpen.
It reads like a plot line made for Hollywood: Former top prospect, cast aside by almost everyone after injuries threatened to take away his Big League dream, returns to St. Louis in the nick of time, as other injuries cast doubt on the 2015 Cardinals’ season. Once a stud with limitless potential, Garcia tries to reclaim his former glory and win back the hearts of the fans who desperately want him to succeed. Will his unpredictable health derail him yet again? Or will they all live Happily Ever Jaime?
To Be Continued…
Follow Tara on Twitter: @TaraWellman