Garcia a different pitcher since Nats saw him last
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LOUIS -- On the evening of Aug. 30, in the bottom of the first inning at Nationals Park in Washington, Cardinals left-hander Jaime Garcia walked leadoff hitter Jayson Werth, then went 2-0 to Bryce Harper. On the next pitch, Harper lined a home run deep down the right-field line. The Nationals romped, 8-1.
Garcia, who will see the Nats again on Monday afternoon (3:30 p.m. CT on TBS) when he starts Game 2 of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium, shrugged when asked about that game.
"That start in Washington, I actually felt pretty good," he said Sunday before Game 1. "It's one of those things where they have a really good lineup and a really good team. I made a couple mistakes and paid the consequences. I can't really tell you the reason ... 'It was because I was doing something wrong and then I found something.'
Loves to face: Allen Craig: 1-for-5. Hates to face: Yadier Molina: 5-for-11, 1 2B, 1 RBI.
Loves to face: Adam LaRoche: 1-for-8, 2 K's. Hates to face: Jayson Werth: 4-for-12, 1 HR, 2 RBIs.
Why he'll win: Zimmermann was sharp through six innings his last time vs. STL.
Why he'll win: Garcia has five postseason starts while Zimmermann has zero.
Pitcher beware: Zimmermann threw a career-high 195 2/3 innings this year.
Pitcher beware: Garcia posted the highest full-season ERA (3.92) and WHIP (1.364) of his career.
Bottom line: Zimmermann thrived this year without an innings limit.
Bottom line: Garcia's postseason experience should benefit him.
"That's not the case. So I'm just going to go out there and try to execute pitches."
The importance of Garcia having a good game only increased Sunday when the Cardinals dropped Game 1, 3-2. They obviously would like to get a split at home and not go back to Washington facing the daunting task of winning three straight on the road to advance.
Baseball puts a lot of emphasis on using the past to predict the future. That's what pitcher-batter matchups are all about. But there are reasons to suppose that Monday will be, literally, a whole new ballgame, even though Garcia's ERA was 4.52 after that game.
For one thing, that was only the lefty's third start after coming off the disabled list with a shoulder impingement. Another is that he was considerably more effective down the stretch. After that game in Washington, Garcia went 4-1 with a 2.50 ERA in his last six starts. His last four outings were even better, as he posted a 2.10 ERA.
So there doesn't seem to have been a eureka moment. As the Cardinals tell it, he didn't change a grip or add a pitch or junk one from his repertoire that wasn't working. It wasn't discovered that he was tipping his pitches and he didn't start approaching hitters differently.
Said Cards general manager John Mozeliak: "I think when you really look at his year, you have to go all the way back to late April, early May. And he just wasn't quite himself physically. He was on the DL for two months. He got his shoulder right. I think then he was feeling 100 percent healthy, and that was the biggest difference. Early on, I think he was trying to pitch through some discomfort and it just wasn't working."
Garcia didn't face the Nationals in the next-to-last series of the season when St. Louis won two of the games by large margins at Busch Stadium. But he thinks that series can only help.
"It was huge," he said. "They have one of the best teams in the National League, they have a really young, talented team, and it was huge for us knowing that we can compete and we can go out there and win some ballgames. But at the same time, postseason is different, and now we've got to lock it in and go out there and try to win the ballgame."
Garcia made five starts last season as the Cardinals marched through the postseason to win the World Series. He believes that experience can only be a plus.
"It definitely helps a little bit, because you've been out there in a situation like we are in right now," Garcia said. "You take what you learned from last year. But you know, I'm just going to try to do the same thing that I try to do every time I go out there. I just give my best and give my team a chance to win, and that's all I basically worry about."
Lifetime against Washington, Garcia is 2-1 with a 3.74 ERA.
"They are good," he said. "Like I said, they got a really good group of guys that can swing the bat really good. I'm just going to prepare myself really good mentally and watch some videos and things that I need to do. The bottom line is just go out there and give it my best shot and try to keep us in the game."