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Jaime Garcia still needs maturity to become top-tier pitcher

St. Louis Cardinals projected No. 3 starter Jaime Garcia could become one of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball, but his emotional control will have to catch up with his physical ability.

Garcia has the talent to be a 20-game winner in the big leagues. He kept opposing teams hitless the first time through the lineup several times last season, but still ended up with a 13-7 record with a 3.56 ERA.

Much of the reason for Garcia’s lack of spectacular numbers is because he allows himself to get rattled during a game. If a defensive play isn’t made behind him in the field or the umpire squeezes the strike zone, Garcia has a tendency to lose command and become hittable.

Unfortunately, that same script played out Saturday in his Spring Training start against the Detroit Tigers.

The Tigers have a powerful lineup with MVP candidates Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder holding down the corners of the infield, but Garcia held the Tigers to one hit in the first three innings. With the Cardinals up 3-0 in the fourth, Cabrera singled, Fielder tripled on a questionable fair/foul call and all of a sudden the flood gates opened. By the time the fifth inning rolled around the score was tied 3-3.

Garcia left the game after recording one out in the fifth. He was charged with four runs on five hits with three walks and the Cardinals went on to lose 10-3.

Granted, this was just another Spring Training start and the Tigers have a good lineup, but Saturday’s start continued a frustrating trend with Garcia. At times he shows the talent of an ace but also shows the steadiness of a rookie.

As Garcia struggled on the road to a 4-3 record with a 4.61 ERA that was two full runs higher than his home ERA of 2.55, reports surfaced that Garcia had trouble focusing for his starts on the road. That problem wasn’t caused by any misbehavior. Rather, he cared so much about the upcoming game that he would get bugged up if something didn’t go as planned during the day, such as a taxi cab showing up late.

Garcia could be the next part of the Cardinals’ two-headed monster and join Adam Wainwright at the front of the rotation if Chris Carpenter is indeed in the final stages of his career, but right now Garcia could just as likely be a guy who remains stuck in the middle of a rotation.

We must remember, however, that 2012 is going to only be Garcia’s third full season in the majors. It often takes talented pitchers some time to develop before they become great perennial all-stars such as Justin Verlander.

Verlander won the Cy Young and MVP awards last season, and although he had success his first two full seasons, he went 11-17 in 2008 before starting a three-year record of 61-23.

Garcia doesn’t have Verlander’s fastball, but Garcia does have good enough pitches to potentially throw multiple no-hitters. He came close a few times in 2011, but one problem would always happen and then Garcia became an average pitcher for the rest of the game.

Garcia did go the farthest of any Cardinals starter so far this spring with his 4.1 innings Saturday, and soon starters will begin throwing regular-length games as the regular season approaches. Hopefully Garcia learns to focus for a full seven innings or longer without letting one issue mess everything up.

If that happens, the Cardinals could have a great starting rotation in 2012.

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