Changes continue to confound Jaime Garcia

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Jaime Garcia is one of the most dominating pitchers on the team when everything around him is satisfactory. When it’s not, a team such as the Philadelphia Phillies can tag him for eight runs in three innings, as they did Friday in Philadelphia.


Garcia has struggled on the road throughout his career. He has a 15-12 record with a 4.40 earned-run average in road games, but he is 20-11 with a 2.45 ERA in his career at Busch Stadium where he is more familiar with the surroundings and can comfortably prepare for a game the same way every time.

But one more change might have factored into Friday’s poor performance. Regular catcher Yadier Molina had a day off for the first time all season. Tony Cruz got the start instead.

So without his regular home routine and normal catcher, Garcia gave up eight runs on nine hits and two walks. Sure, third baseman Ty Wigginton made a throwing error in the first inning to make four of their eight runs unearned, but four of the Phillies hits went for extra bases, so Garcia got hit around regardless.

Unfortunately, Garcia has too many of those nights, and that keeps him from being one of the better pitchers on not only the Cardinals, but in Major League Baseball.

He has the stuff. He throws his fastball in the low 90s with movement, he has a knee-buckling curveball and owns a changeup that is as good as any top-tier left-handed starter in the game. And when he has those pitches working correctly, he has the potential to throw a no-hitter.

But he also has nights when he can’t command those pitches and simply gets crushed.

That has been the main problem Garcia has fought throughout his five-year career. He looks like a pitcher who can dominate, and at times he does, but mind games tend to get in the way of him being a consistent pitcher who can fill a spot near the top of the rotation.

The problem is Garcia now has five years of big-league experience, and he hasn’t been able to get over those issues.

The Cardinals are aware of these issues. They’ve even manipulated the rotation in recent years to try to minimize the times Garcia has to pitch on the road.

And while it’s great his team is trying to help him out, Garcia has to get past those concentration issues at some point or he is going to become the next Oliver Perez, a left-handed starter who came up with the San Diego Padres in 2002.

Perez, who is now a reliever for the Seattle Mariners, had electric stuff when he debuted and even posted a 2.98 ERA with 12 wins for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2004, but his inconsistency kept him from being Johan Santana or any number of other great left-handed starters.

For the most part, Garcia has had a good start to his 2013 season. He pitched well in spring training after recovering from a shoulder injury and started this season well in his first start on the road. He held the Arizona Diamondbacks to one run in 5.2 innings April 2 in Phoenix and then made two solid starts at home before the Phillies shelled him Friday.

Maybe Molina’s absence had more to do with the poor outing than anything, or perhaps he simply had an off night. All pitchers do. But Garcia is going to have to get beyond those relatively minor differences in each start if he is going to not only help the Cardinals in 2013, but also live up to his long-term potential.

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