I have no idea what’s going on with Jaime Garcia. But I’m a hack sportswriter, not a doctor. So I wouldn’t be in position to know what’s happening inside Garcia’s left elbow, or inside his head. But here’s the scary thing: Garcia doesn’t know, and the Cardinals don’t seem to know, either.
How could this be?
Here we go again.
Cardinals player is removed from action with an injury concern ... injury concern is minimized ... MRI exam comes back “clean” according to the team manager ... player is given a brief time off as a precaution ... player returns ... player isn’t right ... player doesn’t know what’s going on ... team doesn’t know what’s going on ... player (frequently) leaves, to seek a second, outside medical opinion ... player is is in limbo ... no one knows when the player will be sufficiently healthy to return ... heck, no one seems to have a handle on the first step — which is correctly identifying the problem.
Garcia is the latest case. After missing a start due to elbow soreness, and after receiving clearance to pitch after getting a favorable inspection by the medical staff, Garcia showed up on the mound at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday night and had absolutely nothing. He was afraid to throw fastballs. He fluttered some useless breaking balls to the plate, took a beating over two innings, gave up six runs to the Astros, and was mercifully removed by manager Mike Matheny. This false Garcia start put the Cardinals in a ditch. They tried like crazy to crawl up that hill, and almost made it out, but not quite, losing to Houston 9-8.
Why was Garcia allowed to start if he wasn’t right, physically? After the game, Matheny said he had no idea what was wrong with Garcia. The pitcher said he had no idea what was wrong. The manager and the pitcher agreed that Garcia wasn’t right. Garcia, who engaged reporters in word play, denied that he was at full strength, only “pain free” and implied that he wasn’t ready to pitch.
(Garcia doesn’t get a free pass here, either. If he didn’t feel sound and capable of pitching effectively, then why didn’t he let his pitching coach and manager know in advance? The Cardinals will likely move Garcia to the DL. They’ll have to bring up a young starter; it could be Joe Kelly. It could be Brandon Dickson. Shelby Miller is not pitching well at Memphis.)
Anyway, this is just another round of confusion and chaos that probably could have been avoided. Again. That’s frustrating. Some would even say it’s infuriating.
Recently, center fielder Jon Jay went through the cycle of confusion and chaos. Banged his shoulder against the wall while making a play. Shoulder hurt. Shoulder was OK. Shoulder no problem. Player quickly returned to lineup. Shoulder was not OK. Player to the DL. Player still on the DL. Player seeks second opinion. Player shut down in his rehab. Player and team are mystified.
This is craziness.
At some point, doesn’t Cardinals owner, Bill DeWitt Jr. have to step in, ask tough questions, and demand clear, concise and candid answers from every person in this organization that’s involved with the medical diagnosis, care and treatment of players? It’s not as if DeWitt is paying players $25,000 a year to play for the Cardinals. He’s invested $100 million in this roster. Last summer, the Cardinals invested a four-year, $27.5 million contract (with team options for another $23.5 million) in Garcia.
Does DeWitt enjoy throwing money away in this manner? I can’t imagine that he would. But I seriously have to wonder about that; after all, this has been going on for years. It’s bizarre.
Moving on ...
-- Since agreeing to the contract extension Garcia is 7-8 with a 4.26 ERA.
-- Since May 3, Cardinals starting pitchers have an ERA of 4.86. That ranks 27th among the 30 MLB teams over the stretch. Only the starters in Minnesota, Baltimore and Colorado have been worse.
-- Since May 11, the Cardinals have lost seven games in which they’ve scored five runs or more in a game. Since May 11 when the Cardinals score five or more runs in a game, they’re only 5-7. That’s awful.
-- This season, so far, is bringing back hazy and rather unpleasant memories of 2003. Why? The 2003 Cardinals were second in the NL in runs and slugging and first in onbase percentage. In terms of runs per game, they ranked second among Tony La Russa’s 16 teams in St. Louis (1996-2011). But the 2003 Cardinals finished out of the money and didn’t make the playoffs because of bad pitching. They ranked 11th in the NL with a 4.60 team ERA. Their starters were 10th with a 4.53 ERA.
-- In 2003, in a desperate search for pitching, GM Walt Jocketty went dumpster diving for relievers such as Esteban Yan and Pedro Borbon Jr. He made a trade for lefthanded starter Sterling Hitchcock. The bullpen was hideously bad, finishing with a 4.74 ERA and 30 blown saves. The Cardinals went through 20 relievers during the course of the season in a frantic attempt to stop the bleeding. La Russa was so desperate to get outs in the late innings that he turned to starter Woody Williams to make an emergency relief appearance at one point.
-- That 2003 team actually managed to win 85 games ... because of the offense. Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Edgar Renteria each drove in 100 or more runs, Pujols hit 43 homers, and Jimmy Edmonds hit 39 homers with 89 RBIs. But the ‘03 Cardinals lost 17 games when scoring five or more runs. The 2003 Cardinals were loaded with firepower, but it wasn’t enough to save the pitching staff or the season. The Cardinals were in the race until losing 10 of 14 in a September slump, with the starting pitchers getting torched for a 5.24 ERA over the 14 games.
-- Some will cite the 2007 Cardinals as another example ... and yes, the Cardinals’ pitching staff was pretty rotten that year, with a 4.65 ERA. But that team also had a middle-of-the-pack offense. That’s the difference between 2003 and 2007. So far — and sheesh, it’s still early — what we’re seeing is an unfortunate waste of offense. And that’s more in line with the 2003 tracking.
As always, thanks for reading.
Bernie Miklasz is a Lee News Service columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com or (314) 340-8192.