JUPITER, Fla. -- Free of shoulder discomfort and past the point of rehab, left-hander Jaime Garcia stepped onto a side mound at the Cardinals' Florida complex to throw his first bullpen session of Spring Training on Friday.
The event is hardly unique, but for Garcia, it was nevertheless notable. He had thrown off a mound only a handful of times -- first in October, again in the weeks leading up to camp -- since undergoing season-ending surgery on his left shoulder last May. A year ago, Garcia arrived at Spring Training hopeful that his shoulder would hold up. This year, he knows that it will.
"It is definitely a good feeling, but at the same time, it's something I know I have to stay on top of and not let become an issue," said Garcia, who went 5-2 with a 3.58 ERA in nine starts before being shut down last year. "Shoulder surgery is shoulder surgery. They're not very easy, but I worked really hard this offseason to be in the best shape I could be and everything went really well. Now I just try to take it one day at a time again and listen to my body."
Neither Garcia, nor manager Mike Matheny, could say whether Garcia's Spring Training workout plan will be modified at all. That's because much of it will be dictated on how Garcia's shoulder responds. His readiness to follow a regular offseason workout plan, however, gives him a chance at a "normal" spring.
"He's on track with where he needs to be and we'll just need to adapt," Matheny said. "I'm not going to put the pressure on him saying that he is going to be with everyone else here for the rest of the way out. If a little alteration needs to be made, we're not scared to make that alteration."
After stating that he was "very optimistic" about being fully game-ready by Opening Day, Garcia spoke about the differences he can already note post-surgery. After two years of having to alter his mechanics to compensate for shoulder pain, Garcia returns to the mound feeling like himself and looking like it, too.
"When you have injuries that come up, you try to change your mechanics, you try to change your arm angles so you don't have pain in your shoulder," Garcia said. "It was a difficult thing for me, because I was still being effective and still going out there and giving us a chance, so it was difficult for me. That's why a lot of times you don't say anything. You just keep grinding through it.
"But this is a different story. Now it feels better and it gives you that relief in your mind that they fixed everything that needed to be fixed in there. I had the surgery and now I need to stay on top of it so it doesn't become an issue again."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.