After the St. Louis Cardinals lost team ace Chris Carpenter prior to the start of Spring Training, it was as much of a major hit to the team as it was a call for the rest of the pitching staff to step up.
Clearly, there’s no more important pitcher on the Cardinals’ starting five going into 2013 as unequivocal ace and $97.5 million man Adam Wainwright. Just behind his shadow, though, looms Jaime Garcia, whose climb towards a breakout season in the bigs was halted by injury issues in 2012.
St. Louis won’t be necessarily be the favorites in the NL Central going into the season, but a return to health from the 26-year old lefty will go a long way to their postseason aspirations.
There’s a reason why they’re relying on him to start the season game of the season behind Wainwright, after all, and all Garcia has done through the spring has been to rid himself of the question marks around his troublesome shoulder.
Finishing his Grapefruit League campaign on Wednesday with a brilliant eight-inning gem in which the hurler allowed just one run on six hits, no walks and eight strikeouts against the big, bad Washington Nationals, Garcia not only ended Spring Training as the team’s best pitcher (2.48/1.14 ERA/WHIP, 1.55 BB/9, 7.45 K/9), but he’s also handled more workload than his rotation brethren at 29 total innings.
For someone who had come into the preseason with a whole lot to prove as far as health goes, it’s been a test that Garcia has passed spectacularly.
So, what does 2013 have in store for the lefty?
Well, despite the regression in traditional numbers (3.92/1.36 ERA/WHIP) in 2012, there are signs to suggest that Garcia may have been victim of a little bit of bad luck (.339 BABIP, over his .312 career average), as his strikeout rate, good control and batted ball against profile remained steady.
His significant 0.95 ERA-FIP is indicative of that, and if he can stay healthy enough come close to the 200 IP mark as he did in 2011, there’s little reason why Garcia couldn’t push a 4.0-plus fWAR season in 2013 — which would establish him as a legitimate front-end pitcher.
If you’re even feeling more optimistic, you could look to his three-year increase in swinging strikes percentage (10.0, 10.5, 11.6 percent from 2010-2012), there might even be a bit of a strikeout artist that’s starting to emerge here.
Will Garcia end up pushing Wainwright’s production in 2013? Probably not.
He could, however, establish himself as the unquestioned No. 2 on the team. With the Carpenter era likely over in St. Louis, that’s going to be a whole lot of weight to carry on his shoulder — and Garcia is more than ready for it.