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Garcia locking in last rotation spot

Garcia locking in last rotation spot

JUPITER, Fla. -- Tony La Russa still hasn't come out and said it, and Jaime Garcia hasn't been told anything. But the race for the fifth-starter's job has pretty much already been decided.

Garcia, the young left-hander perceived as a dark-horse candidate heading into camp but one of St. Louis' better arms this spring, will be entrenched as the No. 5 man in the rotation barring "a hiccup," meaning Kyle McClellan will go to the bullpen -- where he can eventually serve as a setup man to Ryan Franklin -- and Rich Hill will probably be optioned to Triple-A Memphis.

Nothing has been finalized, but that's the direction the club is headed.

"If we had to break today, it would be Garcia [as the fifth starter]," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak told MLB.com on Thursday. "But we're not drawing a line in the sand, we're not positioning it as other than we still have time in Spring Training, and we reserve the right to still make changes if necessary. But obviously he's pitched well, and we're very encouraged by how he's done this spring.

"I think right now we're pretty content with this [making Garcia the fifth starter]."

Garcia, who made 10 MLB appearances in 2008, has given up just two earned runs in 12 2/3 innings this spring (good for a 1.42 ERA) while striking out 13 batters and walking five through four relief appearances.

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One big telling point is the fact that Garcia will be getting his first start of the spring on Monday against the Twins, all but cementing the fact that he's beaten out Hill and -- in a sense -- McClellan for the starting nod.

"I think all three of those guys really had a legitimate shot [going into spring]," Mozeliak said regarding the fifth spot. "They've each had their highlights. Both McClellan and Garcia have really pitched very well this spring. It's actually good to have tough decisions because that means both were throwing well."

Hill, signed to a Minor League contract this offseason, has struggled this spring, posting a 6.30 ERA through 10 frames. McClellan, however, hasn't. His ERA is a slim 1.80 through 10 innings, and he's coming off three shutout frames against the Orioles on Wednesday.

But as an added bonus to the Cardinals, placing McClellan in the bullpen gives them a much-needed righty arm, and making Garcia a starter gives them their only southpaw in the rotation.

Garcia seemingly cemented his standing as a starter with a four-inning, one-run outing against the Astros on Monday.

But there are questions about whether his arm can stand up to the rigors of a full season in the rotation.

Garcia underwent Tommy John surgery in 2008, only pitched in 37 2/3 Minor League innings in '09 and has topped 130 innings in a season only once, during his first year of pro ball in '06.

"I think anybody that's experienced Tommy John surgery and has never had a full Major League season under their belt, that's a natural question," Mozeliak said. "The answer is time will tell. But he does look like he's in extremely good shape, he showed up fit, and, to me, he seems strong."

On Wednesday, Garcia said it'd be "a dream come true" if he can break camp as the starter.

Barring the unforeseen, that dream looks like a reality.

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["spring_training" ] }
{"content":["spring_training" ] }