By Thom Henninger
St. Louis rookie Jaime Garcia has been one of the best starting pitchers in the game, posting a 1.59 ERA that ranks second in the majors. He has yet to allow more than two earned runs in a start through his first 13 outings this spring, and not even the game’s best pitcher, Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez, can say that. In fact, no ERA qualifier can.
The 23-year-old southpaw has been a remarkable story after missing most of 2009 following Tommy John surgery. He made an impressive return late in the season with Triple-A Memphis, aiding the Redbirds’ push to the Pacific Coast League championship with a solid playoff performance. Then he built on that success by securing a spot in the St. Louis rotation this spring in Florida.
Armed with a terrific curveball, Garcia has worked quality starts in 11 of his 13 outings, en route to a 6-3 record for the National League Central-leading Cardinals. Along with Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, he’s given the club a formidable three at the top of the rotation.
A key to Garcia’s success has been his ability to avoid mistake pitches, something nearly every rookie struggles to do. The lefty had worked 44.1 innings for the Cards before giving up his first home run of the season, and he’s allowed a total of just two in 79.1 frames. That’s an average of just 0.23 home runs per nine innings pitched.
Garcia’s currently on pace to post the lowest homer rate among rookie ERA qualifiers since the strike-shortened 1981 season, when Cincinnati ‘s Bruce Berenyi gave up just three longballs in 126.0 innings, a rate of 0.21 per nine innings. Since the expansion era began, the only other rate lower than Garcia’s was 0.22 by Dodgers rookie Bill Singer in 1967.
The Cardinals rookie has a long way to go stay close to Berenyi and Singer. If he can continue to limit his mistake pitches, he not only may flirt with the lowest home-run rate by a rookie starter in the expansion era, he also will make a strong case for NL Rookie of the Year honors.