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

The Cardinal Nation Blog top stories of 2010 #11: Garcia’s emergence

Rookie left-hander Jaime Garcia surged onto the scene for the St. Louis Cardinals, winning 13 games and finishing third in the National League Rookie of the Year vote.

With the departure of veteran starting pitcher Joel Pineiro last winter, the St. Louis Cardinals were left with an opening in their 2010 rotation. Young left-hander Jaime Garcia seemed a legitimate contender – on paper at least.

Pitching coach Dave Duncan and manager Tony La Russa dampened expectations, making it clear on multiple occasions over the winter that Garcia would be better served to return to Triple-A Memphis for 2010. With the then-23-year-old coming off August 2008 Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, the Cardinals braintrust wanted to protect their youngster through fewer and potentially less stressful Triple-A innings.

Garcia had returned late in the 2009 season to make nine very effective minor league appearances. Knowing his potential since he was drafted in 2005, we had named him our top prospect in the Cardinals system coming into the season.

In mid-February, Garcia reported to the major league spring training camp in Jupiter, Florida on a mission. He blew those Memphis plans out of the water by pitching so well (3.00 ERA, 20:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 24 innings) and with such poise that La Russa and Duncan had no choice. The native of Reynoso, Mexico would be their fifth starter.

As the regular season got underway, Garcia continued to exceed expectations. Not only did he lock down that rotation spot, he essentially became the team’s third starter alongside Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter.

Through the first two months of the season, Garcia made ten starts, posting an eye-catching 1.32 ERA. Providing a good reminder of the team’s struggles as a whole this past season, Garcia was pinned with two losses and three no-decisions in those outings.

During the middle third of the year, Garcia’s ERA crept up slightly, but he made just one start in which he was charged with more than three runs. At the end of July, his ERA was a run higher, but still spectacular at 2.33.

Following a couple of uncharacteristic four-run outings to begin August, Garcia pitched his best game of the season on August 22. He tossed a three-hit complete game shutout against the soon-to-be World Champion San Francisco Giants. Garcia fanned six and issued no walks.

On September 18, as a precautionary measure, La Russa announced that Garcia would be shut down for the remainder of the season. No one apparently told the pitcher the news as he reacted with surprise. After meetings with the skipper and general manager John Mozeliak, the club backed off the decision temporarily.

Without Garcia pitching in game action again, they made it official one week later.

The 24-year-old last took the mound on September 13, finishing with a stellar 13-8 record, 2.70 ERA and a 132:64 strikeout to walk ratio over 163 1/3 innings and 28 starts.

Those 13 wins, the most by a first-year National League pitcher, propelled him into being a legitimate Rookie of the Year contender, but his relatively slow finish ultimately damaged his candidacy. Garcia still came in a very respectable third in the voting.

Following the season, Garcia was selected to the 11-man 2010 Topps Major League Rookie All-Star Team and was named the Cardinals’ team Rookie of the Year as well.

While the Cardinals did not reach the playoffs with Garcia, it is difficult seeing how they could have won as many as 86 games without his rookie-year emergence. The only left-hander in the rotation seems poised to remain there for at least the next five seasons.

Link to The Cardinal Nation Blog’s top 20 stories of the year countdown

Poll: How many games will Jaime Garcia win in his 2011 sophomore season?

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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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