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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Managing Garcia’s workload during a pennant race

What is the best way for the St. Louis Cardinals to manage their number three starter, rookie Jaime Garcia?

Over on The Cardinal Nation message board, one of our most astute posters, “Gagliano”, stepped into Dave Duncan’s shoes to develop a schedule for the St. Louis Cardinals starting pitchers through the end of the season.

Key assumptions that were made include deploying only the pitchers that are currently on the roster (no trades), the return of Kyle Lohse after two more rehab starts and the avoidance of using the fifth starter whenever possible by always keeping the starting four on regular rest.

I can understand the first two, but worry about the latter.

Put aside for a moment driving aces Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, the latter with past injury issues. Even put aside the risks of placing a full workload on Lohse the rest of the way, a pitcher who has been injured much of the last two seasons.

I understand the interest in minimizing any future starts by both Jeff Suppan and Blake Hawksworth, but at what potential cost?

Jaime Garcia (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)The Cardinals came into this season with the firm intent to start rookie Jaime Garcia in Memphis to more carefully manage his workload as he is coming off rehab from surgery. The lefty had other plans, forcing his way into the rotation and performing better than anyone had a right to expect.

Just this past week in New York, we asked manager Tony La Russa about Garcia’s workload. Tony said they discussed it this spring as an organization. On one hand, the manager said they carefully monitor all pitchers, while also acknowledging Garcia was given two extra days and the All-Star break already. Going forward, La Russa said “We will err on the side of caution.”

The manager was asked if the pennant race might have an impact on Garcia’s usage. “The race wouldn’t change what Dave Duncan and I do. The organization might look at that differently, though. I hope we don’t get there.” The latter point was a reference to falling out of contention.

This raises a related question I wanted badly to ask La Russa about in New York but knew it was too speculative to get an answer:

“If you don’t acquire another starter, would you rather continue to try to give Garcia extra days off now and then or avoid using the fifth starter whenever possible?”

Gagliano’s strawman assumes the latter. If the Cards can stay in the race, I think I prefer the former for two reasons.

1) Garcia’s injury history. He is squarely on track to reach a career high in innings pitched, 182, not including the post-season. Jaime threw 155 innings in his first pro season in 2006 but managed just 247 innings over the next three years combined. A elbow problem that led to Tommy John surgery late in the 2008 season was the primary reason.

2) Having a stronger Garcia for the playoffs. The Cardinals need an effective third starter – if they make it to October, of course, which takes us back to needing to play well enough in the interim to get there…

That is why La Russa and Duncan make all that money – to make these kinds of decisions.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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