The St. Louis Cardinals' annual Winter Warm-Up is taking place this weekend. The event allows fans to rub elbows with players, coaches, and front office types. In addition to autographs, memorabilia, and merchandise, it also allows us to get news on how the offseason has gone for players. For players attempting to come back from injury, this often means an update on how their injured body part feels. A winter species of "progressing nicely," these statements are also a cousin to the "best shape of his life" comments that emanate from Florida and Arizona in the spring.
Jaime Garcia spent 74 days of the 2012 season on the disabled list with what Baseball Prospectus calls a "labrum and partial rotator cuff tear." After missing 64 games, Garcia returned and pitched brilliantly down the home stretch of the pennant race. From August 19 through the regular season's end, the southpaw made nine starts. He threw 55.1 innings, striking out 47 opposing hitters while walking just 11. Garcia posted a 3.25 ERA after his activation from the DL. This post-injury stretch dropped his ERA from 4.48 after his injury-shortened two-inning start against Houston to 3.92 for the season.
Garcia then attempted to pitch in the playoffs. However, in his only postseason start, he lasted just two innings. Garcia didn't look sharp in the outing. He walked three and allowed two hits while somehow managing to limit the Nats to only one run. He was then pulled from the game by manager Mike Matheny for a pinch hitter. Garcia talked to reporters. MLB.com reporter Paul Hagen reported on the shoulder discomfort with extensive quotes from the lefty:
"It just didn't feel right," Garcia said. "It was hurting and wasn't feeling the way it has been."
Asked if it was similar to the injury that landed him on the DL, Garcia just shook his head.
"I can't really talk about that. It just wasn't right, and it never got better," he said. "The last couple of weeks, I've been feeling the best I've felt in a long time, and everything has been going really good. I don't know how it happened. I don't know when it happened. I'm just hoping that it's not too bad."
Garcia thought it was something he could pitch through, but it just didn't work out that way.
"It actually happened a couple days ago," Garcia said. "Usually you get a little sore or stiff in between starts, and that's part of pitching. As you get closer to game time, the stiffness and soreness goes away. That allows you to go out there and execute your pitches. This is one of those things where it didn't get better the last couple days.
"This game, I was like, 'Go out there with no excuses and give your team a chance to win.' And it didn't get better again. It wasn't right. I don't even know what to think. I'm going to wait and see what the results are and then see how it feels in the next couple of days. It's a really tough situation for me right now."
Garcia said he didn't say anything to Matheny or the athletic trainers until the second inning.
"You say something when you feel like you can't go," Garcia said. "And I felt like I was going to be able to go when the game came. How many times has my shoulder felt 100 percent with no stiffness, pain at all? Probably never. I thought I would make it through the game."
After leaving NLDS Game 2, Garcia sought the opinions of three different surgeons. Drs. Robert Altchek, Lewis Yocum, and George Paletta all recommended surgery, per a Joe Strauss report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Specifically, the three doctors recommended a debridement procedure on his shoulder. Garcia sought the opinion of renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews. Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com reported that Dr. Andrews recommended rehabilitation instead of surgery. In the article, Langosch quotes Garcia:
"Basically, the thing that I asked him was, 'Do you think I can get back to where it was right before that game?'" Garcia said. "There's some stuff in my shoulder that I know is in there. And I can deal with that. He believes that I might as well give it a try."
In a few weeks, if Garcia's shoulder feels like it did when he last came off the mound, he plans to opt for surgery. Any sort of procedure would likely cost him some portion of the 2013 season.
"What I told them is, 'I'll be able to tell,'" Garcia said. "If it's still the same, we're probably going to do the surgery. But I'm not thinking about that right now. ... We'll try [the rehab] and if it works, good. And if not, we'll move forward."
Given how close Garcia came to undergoing a shoulder debridement in the immediate aftermath of his aborted NLDS start, the health of his shoulder is one of the biggest question marks the Cardinals face this offseason. At the Winter Warm-Up, Garcia gave reason for optimism about his ability to start the season as a member of the rotation.
Jaime Garcia encouraged by status of left shoulder: "Believe me, I’m doing everything I can possibly do every single day to be ready to go."— Jenifer Langosch (@LangoschMLB) January 19, 2013
Just spoke with Jaime Garcia--said workouts have included throwing 4x a week, expects to be ready for start of spring training #stlcards— Brian Stull (@StullySTL) January 19, 2013
Derrick Goold reported on Garcia's statements for the Post-Dispatch:
Garcia was not interested in talking much about how last season ended.
"That's way in the past," Garcia said. "I'm ready to move forward. I'm real excited. ... I'm excited for this year. I'm ready to go for spring training."
The southpaw's positive assessment of the present condition of his shoulder at the Winter Warm-Up is reason for optimism as spring training nears. Nonetheless, the unnatural act of throwing a baseball repeatedly can change things in an instant. This is a reality Garcia seems to recognize, as Goold's article notes:
He would not say whether he thinks the injury is in the pasat.
"We'll see in April," the lefty said.
Goold has a link to video he shot with his mobile phone of Garcia's comments. If you are interested in hearing everything he said, there is a link provided in his article on stltoday.com.