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SD@STL: Garcia tosses a complete game shutout

ST. LOUIS -- Jaime Garcia wasn't concerned.

That's the attitude the St. Louis Cardinals' 24-year-old left-hander took during Spring Training, when he allowed more runs than innings pitched and twice as many earned runs as he had a year earlier.

Garcia's final Grapefruit League start was strong, and his first regular season start on Sunday was a thing of beauty. He struck out a career-high nine batters and allowed just four hits in the second shutout of his young career, as the Cardinals defeated the Padres, 2-0, at Busch Stadium.

"I was never concerned because I knew my arm felt good, physically I felt great, mentally felt where I wanted to be," Garcia said of his Spring Training struggles. "It was a matter of going out there and I was thinking too much. I was thinking things I'm not supposed to be thinking. But I wasn't worried at all. I knew I had the stuff. I think a huge part of it was Dunc [pitching coach Dave Duncan] and then Tony [manager Tony La Russa], they gave me the confidence. They trust me, and that helped me a lot. ... I wasn't concerned at all."

The Mexico native was a revelation for the Cardinals in 2010, when he finished third in the voting for National League Rookie of the Year and 12th in the NL Cy Young Award voting. He went 13-8 with a 2.70 ERA over 28 starts, striking out 132 and walking 64 in 163 1/3 innings. He limited opposing batters to a .243 average.

But Garcia struggled for most of this spring. He went 1-3 with a 6.26 ERA in six Spring Training starts, allowing 25 runs (16 earned) on 40 hits in 23 innings. He struck out 13 batters, walked eight and opponents batted .392 against him.

Garcia's last start of Spring Training was his best, when he allowed just one earned run on three hits and struck out seven in six innings against the Florida Marlins.

Sunday's regular-season debut resembled that final Spring Training outing.

"Real real good -- like midseason good," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "A lot like the last game in Florida. He was so sharp. He got a lot of strikeouts. He pitched with a lot of composure in the couple [of] jams he was in. I don't know how you can do better."

Garcia (1-0), who walked two batters, threw 102 pitches -- with 65 going for strikes. He and catcher Yadier Molina were aggressive in attacking the Padres' hitters, trying to jump ahead in the count with early strikes.

"He showed today that he can be in control and throw strikes early in the count," Molina said. "That's a key for him."

And he shook off the remnants of whatever plagued him early on in Spring Training.

"Jaime's got good stuff," Cardinals rookie third baseman Daniel Descalso said. "As long as he pounds the zone and makes his pitches, he's going to be a tough guy to face for a lot of these opposing teams. In Spring Training, he was there working out the kinks, trying to get back into game shape -- and he was ready to roll today."

Garcia, who improved to 15-9 in his young career, out-dueled Padres right-hander Dustin Moseley (0-1), who allowed one unearned run on four hits in seven innings of work.

"He was real good ... picked up where he left off last season," Padres manager Bud Black said of Garcia. "He had good life on his fastball, was able to change speeds effectively, used a cutter-slider, and pitched to both sides of the plate. That's pitching."

The Cardinals (1-2) jumped in front with a run in the fifth inning.

Right fielder Lance Berkman led off the inning with a single, took second on a wild pitch, and advanced to third on a groundout before scoring on a one-out RBI single up the middle by Molina against a drawn-in infield.

"I was looking for a fastball, and he threw me a fastball down," Molina said.

The Padres (2-1) loaded the bases with one out in the sixth inning, but Garcia escaped when left fielder Ryan Ludwick lined into an inning-ending double play to Descalso at third, who snared the liner and tagged the base for the third out.

The Cardinals added an insurance run in the eighth off reliever Luke Gregerson. Second baseman Skip Schumaker led off with a single and came around to score on a soft one-out RBI single to right by shortstop Ryan Theriot. It was Theriot's first RBI as a member of the Cardinals, and helped the Cardinals secure their first victory of the season.

"You have to get off zero," La Russa said of his team's win total. "If it hangs around for a while, then all of a sudden it gets bigger than it should be. ... Over a long season, if you are good enough, your record is going to reflect it. But you don't want to be walking around with an anvil on your back." Comments