Garcia, uninhibited by soreness, looked and said he felt more like himself Saturday.
He used the word “healthy” repeatedly.
“When you're not healthy, you're battling a lot of things,” said Garcia, who threw 45 pitches. “This year the biggest goals for me is, one, to take one day at a time and, No. 2, go out there every fifth day until November or however long we play. Battle. Grind. Do whatever you can to help this team win.”
Garcia was diagnosed with a tear in his pitching shoulder. The discomfort throughout last season caused pain elsewhere, like in his hips, and an erosion of his mechanics. That contributed to his inconsistency and limited him to 121 1/3 innings a year after he pitched 194 2/3 innings with 18 quality starts.
The fifth spot in the Cardinals' rotation is a derby between young pitchers — Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal and Shelby Miller. Lilliquist suggested the idea is to get 150 innings from each of the fourth and fifth spot in the rotation, even if it's by committee. Any more is gravy, he said. With a young arm manning the fifth spot, the Cardinals are more likely to be conservative with the innings load, limiting that pitcher's mileage.
“We have to be smart,” Mozeliak said. “We can't take a pitcher like Shelby Miller and try to say to ourselves that we hope he does 240 innings. That's just not a very smart strategy. What we have to think about is maybe at some point we have someone miss a start. We are certainly cognizant of making sure we don't put a young pitcher in a place he shouldn't be.”
For the returning starters, the bulk innings serve as an indicator.
Unlike wins and earned-run average and quality starts, several pitchers openly said 200 innings is a worthy target.
“If you get to that number it means you're making all of your starts,” said Westbrook, who had an oblique strain halt his climb to 200 last season. “You don't pitch 200 innings if you're not pitching well. If you're not pitching well, you're out of there in the fifth (inning). Next thing you know those other numbers (wins and ERA) will probably be there.”
That is also true for the team.
Last year, three of the four teams that got the most innings in the NL from their rotation made the postseason. The same was true the year before, and the top two rotations in 2010 met in the National League Championship Series.
The Cardinals 2011 World Series team had four starters pitch at least 180 innings during the regular season. The Cards' last six playoff teams have averaged at least three starterswho surpassed 180 innings individually.
As Wainwright said, “The system works better when your starters go deep.”
For four of the starters, 180 innings would be more than they had last year.
For a couple, it would be a career high.
“I don't mind that,” Lilliquist said. “That's a good challenge. If you have four consistent guys you're going to make some noise.”
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