Is It Time to Worry About Jaime Garcia?

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Last year Jaime Garcia was the darling of spring training. He came in the longest of longshots, a talented youngster coming off a 2009 spent mostly rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, expected to spend most, if not all, of 2010 proving his health and mettle in Triple A. He left with a spot in the starting rotation after forcing the hand of the coaching staff with his complete brilliance. 

This year, Jaime Garcia came in to camp with a guaranteed spot in the rotation and high expectations. After finishing third in the Rookie of the Year balloting (in an historically good class, no less), and making an appearance on the ERA leader board, Garcia was expected to step up his contributions and help anchor the middle of a Cardinal rotation that ranks among baseball's best. When Adam Wainwright was lost for the year to his own Tommy John surgery, Garcia's importance took even a further step forward. 

Which is why, of course, it's a little worrisome when you look at Jaime's spring statistics so far. The question is, just how concerned should we be? 

To date in spring training, Garcia has made three appearances, all starts. He has thrown 9 innings, given up 18 hits, 12 runs (10 earned), and walked 4 to go along with 4 strikeouts. That's a 10.00 ERA and a 2.44 WHIP for those of you keeping score at home. 

Compare those numbers to last year, when Jaime posted a 3.00 ERA in 24 innings, with 21 hits and 5 walks allowed. Or to his 2010 ERA of 2.96, with fewer hits than innings pitched. It's fairly easy to see something isn't working for Garcia this spring. 

On the other hand, what can you really tell from a pitcher's first few outings of camp? After all, part of the reason Jaime was so good last year in spring training was because he came in fully ready, competing for a roster spot. He didn't have the luxury of using camp to work into game condition and sharpness; he had to be great from day one to try and make the team. This year he doesn't have to worry about making the squad and can instead just focus on getting his work in and sharpening what needs to be sharpened before the season starts. 

There is at least one indicator I think is very encouraging to date. In yesterday's ugly 13-3 drubbing by the Mets, Jaime gave up 7 earned runs and 9 hits. However, he did not walk a single hitter. It was the first game this spring in which Garcia didn't walk anyone, and hopefully a sign his control is starting to move into regular season form. He was very good in the first two innings as well, but then seemed to be up in the zone badly the rest of the way. It's tough to see tiny details on an online spring training feed, but it looked to me like his release point may have gotten a bit out of whack as the game went on. 

So is it time to be worried about Jaime Garcia? No, probably not just yet. If he's still struggling after two more starts, then I'll start worrying in a big way. For now, though, chalk it up to early March rust and experimentation. 

At least, we had better hope that's all it is. Jaime is much too important to the Cards' chances in 2010 for it to be anything else. 
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