FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said Tuesday that he doesn't view left-hander Jaime Garcia as a variable or a question, but simply as one of the team's five starters. Garcia's performance in that afternoon's game lent a little weight to that assessment.
Garcia, who chose rehab over surgery to treat a left shoulder injury that bothered him in 2012, made his first game appearance of the '13 season in a 15-4 win against the Red Sox. He allowed three hits, all on ground balls, struck out two and walked one over two shutout innings. He needed 43 pitches to get six outs, but 30 of them, nearly 70 percent, were strikes.
"I'll take it," Garcia said. "A lot of good things from it. Physically I feel fine. [I was] a little jumpy towards the beginning, but it was good. I'm happy with the way I felt physically and with the way it went."
The southpaw immediately found himself in trouble in the first, when an infield single off his glove and a single to left field put him in a jam before he got the first out. Garcia then struck out Ryan Lavarnway on a slider, got a popup from Mike Carp and induced a groundout from Mauro Gomez to escape the early jam.
The second frame was a similar story, with a fielder's-choice grounder and a strikeout following a one-out double and walk. Garcia wasn't perfect, but he looked healthy. He looked normal.
"I'm excited about today," Garcia said. "This is good, but I'm not going to sit here and tell you this is the best I've ever felt. This is good. It's good enough, and I'm excited about that. Compared to last year, this is something I can build on. Last year, I was battling out there, I was trying to make pitches, [but] I just couldn't do it. Now I'm at a point where I can keep building and keep going out there and getting better."
That's the sort of even-keeled approach that Garcia would do well to take on a regular basis. Aside from health, of course, the Cardinals want nothing more than consistency from Garcia -- consistency of approach and consistency of performance. Matheny said he's expecting just that this year.
"I'm expecting that guy every day," Matheny said. "I'm expecting him to demand greatness of himself -- just like I'm expecting every single guy out there to demand that same thing. When you have the ability to be that good, you go out there and you don't settle for less. You bring what you've got every single day."
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.