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Jaime Garcia to come back to the St. Louis Cardinals again for the very first time

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Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

St. Louis Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia's shoulder issues first flared up in 2012. I write "issues" because there have been three. Each alone has proven enough to be career-ending for some pitchers. Yet Garcia is somehow slated to start on Thursday for the Cardinals, the third pitcher to fill in the rotation spot left open by the injury to ace Adam Wainwright.

Garcia's rotator cuff and labrum injuries reared their head first. The lefty attempted conservative treatment, pitched ineffectively late in the season and postseason that year, and put together a solid start to the 2013 season before requiring surgery to repair his partially torn labrum and partially torn rotator cuff after nine starts totaling 55 1/3 innings (and a Sports Illustrated cover) during the Cards' 97-win campaign.

After a setback with his shoulder during spring training, Garcia managed to work his way back to the majors again last season. The southpaw joined the Cardinals midseason, filling in for the injured Joe Kelly. Garcia made seven starts and tallied 43 2/3 innings—including a 38-pitch fifth inning against the Royals on June 3 that was perhaps illuminated by manager Mike Matheny's comments regarding how close he was to pulling Michael Wacha in the first inning of last week's game against Cleveland, as reported by Derrick Goold in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch—before the Cardinals placed Garcia on the disabled list once again with shoulder discomfort.

The good news was that Garcia had not re-injured his labrum or rotator cuff. The bad news was that he had thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition that causes the blood vessels and nerves entering the arm from the torso to compress, which can cause numbness and burning sensations in the hand and fingers—a bad thing for a pitcher. The condition is repaired by removing muscle and sometimes a rib from around the outlet, which clears a wider path for the vessels and nerves. It is a condition and corrective surgery has often proven career-ending. For example, Chris Carpenter never regained his form after being diagnosed with the condition and undergoing thoracic outlet release.

The Cardinals thought Garcia should pursue a conservative course of treatment (i.e., not surgery). Garcia consulted with Carpenter's surgeon and opted for surgery. He told the media before the Cardinals front office, which understandably angered general manager John Mozeliak, a turn of events that revealed an uneasiness between Garcia and the Cardinals with respect to medical decisions.

Given all of this, it's understandable that Mozeliak went about his offseason roster construction without Garcia in the plans. When Mozeliak traded starter Shelby Miller and prospect Tyrell Jenkins to the Braves in exchange for right fielder Jason Heyward, he also acquired righthanded setup man Jordan Walden, which gave Matheny a proven reliever to take over the late-innings role for which they had earmarked Carlos Martinez. Mozeliak then signed righthander Carlos Villanueva to serve as Martinez insurance in the form of a bullpen long man and swing starter. The ostensible fifth-starter competition in Jupiter was framed as one between Martinez and Marco Gonzales with nary a mention of Garcia.

Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com reported on how Garcia was more as an afterthought for Matheny than a part of the rotation plan during spring training:

"He's kind of been the 'oh, and …,' and that's a different spot for him," manager Mike Matheny noted. "That happens to a lot of people throughout their career, especially when there is uncertainty about health. [It's] not ideal for anybody, but circumstances put you in spots where sometimes you have to go about it a little different."

Nonetheless, the "oh, and..." guy emerged as the frontrunner for the St. Louis No. 5 starter spot. He put together a string of solid-to-excellent exhibition starts in Florida. His spring-training stats were impressive, a reflection of the command and control that jogged memories of the Garcia that was in 2010, 2011, and 2012, before his shoulder troubles.

2015 Spring-Training Stats

GS

IP

TBF

K

K%

BB

BB%

HR

H

ERA

FIP

3

9.1

39

13

33.33

3

7.69

1

10

3.86

2.72

Then, at the end of spring training, shoulder discomfort once again torpedoed Garcia's return to the rotation. Martinez broke camp as the fifth starter. Garcia stayed in extended spring training. It was only in the last two weeks that he began a minor-league rehab stint that consisted of two starts (one in Memphis; the second in Springfield) with mixed results.

2015 Garcia Rehab Starts

Level

IP

TNP

K

BB

H

HR

R

ER

AAA

2.2

72

3

2

6

0

5

5

AA

6.0

90

6

0

6

1

2

2

While Martinez was rehabbing, the Cardinals were doing what they could to patch over the rotation with Wainwright injured. Tim Cooney got the first crack at replacing Waino. A disastrous start earned him a demotion. The Cards then promoted Tyler Lyons to fill out the rotation. Despite decent peripherals, neither has been able to give the Cardinals the innings they need.

Lyons and Cooney Post-Wainwright

SP

GS

IP

K/9

K%

BB/9

BB%

LOB%

ERA

FIP

xFIP

Cooney

1

2.1

11.57

20.0

3.86

6.7

75.8

11.57

7.44

3.66

Lyons

3

13.0

11.77

23.2

3.46

7.1

64.4

5.54

3.69

2.87

The Cardinals are so sure the Lyons experiment is over that they demoted the lefty to Triple-A and promoted Sam Tuivailala before Sunday night's game against the Tigers. Matheny has a nine-man bullpen and a four-man bench (including backup catcher Tony Cruz) until Garcia's slated start on Thursday. That's when the Cardinals will make the "oh, and..." guy their fifth starter of necessity. Given Garcia's talent, he might be able to once again establish himself as something more. Here's to hope.

FanDuel

SBN and FanDuel have entered into an exclusive daily fantasy baseball partnership. Russell Martin has posted the following career stats against lefties: .264/.383/.423 (.356 wOBA, 120 wRC+). The Blue Jays play the Angels today and lefty CJ Wilson is scheduled to take the mound for Anaheim. You can play FanDuel here.