Three strikes: Surging Garcia, hittable Jimenez and wounded Eckstein

Stan McNeal analyzes three hot topics in Major League Baseball: 

Jaime Garcia is a leading candidate to win NL Rookie of the Year.
Jaime Garcia is a leading candidate to win NL Rookie of the Year.

STRIKE 1: Garcia is the top rookie starter
If you haven’t been paying attention to Cardinals lefthander Jaime Garcia, it’s time to. For a number of reasons, including:

If the NL rookie of the year vote were today, Garcia would be the deserved winner. He is 9-4 with a 2.21 ERA and a .234 batting average allowed — all easily the best of any rookie who has been up all season (and better than one who arrived later; Washington’s Stephen Strasburg is 5-2/2.32/.216).

You might be able to do what scouts haven’t so far and identify exactly what type of pitcher he is. Garcia isn’t a soft-tossing lefty, but he isn’t a 95-mph fastball guy. "He’s a pitcher," said one scout who watched Garcia beat the Phillies with a seven-inning, one-run performance Wednesday night. "He’s got a good curve — not an (Adam) Wainwright curve but a good curve. Good fastball, and good changeup. I’ve seen him since high school and he’s always had the feel for pitching."

Garcia on his repertoire: "I started throwing a slider last year and I’ve worked a lot on my changeup. I’ve always had curveball and fastball. Now my sinker, slider and changeup are better."

He hesitates to use the slider in crunch time but none of the others.

Unless the Cardinals trade for Roy Oswalt — don’t hold your breath — Garcia likely will remain their third-best starter. Considering he had Tommy John surgery less than two years ago and pitched only 37 2/3 innings in the minor leagues in 2009, you have to wonder how well he will hold up in August, September and, who knows, October.

Garcia already has made 19 starts and worked 110 innings. The Cardinals have not said — publicly, anyway — what his max will be, but they will continue to closely monitor his workload. He has pitched seven innings in only five starts and topped 100 pitches in six starts.

Manager Tony La Russa said Garcia’s next start will be pushed back next week to allow him a sixth day of rest (which, because of an off day, would keep Wainwright on regular rest).

The scout says that Garcia has a smooth enough delivery to work 200 innings this season. Of course, the scout would not have to take the hit if Garcia injured his arm in inning No. 201.

Said La Russa: "You watch his arm come through and he’s not out there like (Greg) Maddux but he’s together, and (his delivery) is not that taxing."

As La Russa was talking on the field at Busch Stadium, Garcia ran past on his morning-after jog of four laps around the field in 90-degree heat. "He’s a worker," La Russa said.

One more reason to pay attention to him.

STRIKE 2: Jimenez suddenly looks human
Rockies righthander Ubaldo Jimenez has let his chance to make history fade away. In four of his past five starts, he has allowed at least four earned runs. His once-minuscule ERA is up to 2.38, fourth-best in the NL.

Why the downturn? It isn’t a loss of his fastball. Jimenez regularly was hitting 98 mph Monday at Florida.

Jimenez’s biggest problem is not a new one for him, either. He has had the tendency to get away from his fastball and become too dependent on his secondary stuff. He’ll fall behind in the count and instead of using the fastball, he’ll want "to try to trick somebody," says manager Jim Tracy."

Sure enough, against the Marlins, Jimenez tried to fool outfielder Mike Stanton with a changeup — but he didn’t. The resulting three-run homer ended Jimenez’s night after 5 1/3 innings, his shortest start of the season.

Jimenez’s secondary pitches are so good that he can’t be blamed for wanting to throw them. He admits that having so many pitches — at least six that he’ll use most games — "can be a bad thing because you don’t know which pitch to use."

Expect him to figure it out.

David Eckstein's numbers aren't great, but the Padres play better with him in the lineup.
David Eckstein’s numbers aren’t great, but the Padres play better with him in the lineup.

STRIKE 3: Padres must continue without their leader
David Eckstein, the starting shortstop for two World Series champions, might have been the most underrated player of the past decade.

Or not.

His .349 career on-base percentage as a leadoff hitter, his limited range and his four-finger throwing style never have overwhelmed scouts or statheads. But these are the numbers to watch after the Padres’ second baseman went on the disabled list with a calf injury Wednesday: 4-16 and 37-25.

The former was the Padres’ record when Eckstein was on the disabled list last July. The latter: Their record after his return, which was just a half-game off the Rockies’ league-best record during the stretch.

BONUS PITCH: Wishful thinking?
Tonight is Adrian Gonzalez bobblehead night at Class AAA Portland. That’s Portland, Maine, the home of the Red Sox’s Class AA affiliate and not Portland, Ore., home of the Padres’ Class AAA club. Perhaps the Sea Dogs were being optimistic in thinking that Gonzalez would be on the Red Sox by now? Not really. Gonzalez enjoyed a strong season in 2002 when he and the Sea Dogs were part of the Marlins’ organization.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

Stan McNeal analyzes three hot topics in Major League Baseball: 

Jaime Garcia is a leading candidate to win NL Rookie of the Year.
Jaime Garcia is a leading candidate to win NL Rookie of the Year.

STRIKE 1: Garcia is the top rookie starter
If you haven’t been paying attention to Cardinals lefthander Jaime Garcia, it’s time to. For a number of reasons, including:

If the NL rookie of the year vote were today, Garcia would be the deserved winner. He is 9-4 with a 2.21 ERA and a .234 batting average allowed — all easily the best of any rookie who has been up all season (and better than one who arrived later; Washington’s Stephen Strasburg is 5-2/2.32/.216).

You might be able to do what scouts haven’t so far and identify exactly what type of pitcher he is. Garcia isn’t a soft-tossing lefty, but he isn’t a 95-mph fastball guy. "He’s a pitcher," said one scout who watched Garcia beat the Phillies with a seven-inning, one-run performance Wednesday night. "He’s got a good curve — not an (Adam) Wainwright curve but a good curve. Good fastball, and good changeup. I’ve seen him since high school and he’s always had the feel for pitching."

Garcia on his repertoire: "I started throwing a slider last year and I’ve worked a lot on my changeup. I’ve always had curveball and fastball. Now my sinker, slider and changeup are better."

He hesitates to use the slider in crunch time but none of the others.

Unless the Cardinals trade for Roy Oswalt — don’t hold your breath — Garcia likely will remain their third-best starter. Considering he had Tommy John surgery less than two years ago and pitched only 37 2/3 innings in the minor leagues in 2009, you have to wonder how well he will hold up in August, September and, who knows, October.

Garcia already has made 19 starts and worked 110 innings. The Cardinals have not said — publicly, anyway — what his max will be, but they will continue to closely monitor his workload. He has pitched seven innings in only five starts and topped 100 pitches in six starts.

Manager Tony La Russa said Garcia’s next start will be pushed back next week to allow him a sixth day of rest (which, because of an off day, would keep Wainwright on regular rest).

The scout says that Garcia has a smooth enough delivery to work 200 innings this season. Of course, the scout would not have to take the hit if Garcia injured his arm in inning No. 201.

Said La Russa: "You watch his arm come through and he’s not out there like (Greg) Maddux but he’s together, and (his delivery) is not that taxing."

As La Russa was talking on the field at Busch Stadium, Garcia ran past on his morning-after jog of four laps around the field in 90-degree heat. "He’s a worker," La Russa said.

One more reason to pay attention to him.

STRIKE 2: Jimenez suddenly looks human
Rockies righthander Ubaldo Jimenez has let his chance to make history fade away. In four of his past five starts, he has allowed at least four earned runs. His once-minuscule ERA is up to 2.38, fourth-best in the NL.

Why the downturn? It isn’t a loss of his fastball. Jimenez regularly was hitting 98 mph Monday at Florida.

Jimenez’s biggest problem is not a new one for him, either. He has had the tendency to get away from his fastball and become too dependent on his secondary stuff. He’ll fall behind in the count and instead of using the fastball, he’ll want "to try to trick somebody," says manager Jim Tracy."

Sure enough, against the Marlins, Jimenez tried to fool outfielder Mike Stanton with a changeup — but he didn’t. The resulting three-run homer ended Jimenez’s night after 5 1/3 innings, his shortest start of the season.

Jimenez’s secondary pitches are so good that he can’t be blamed for wanting to throw them. He admits that having so many pitches — at least six that he’ll use most games — "can be a bad thing because you don’t know which pitch to use."

Expect him to figure it out.

David Eckstein's numbers aren't great, but the Padres play better with him in the lineup.
David Eckstein’s numbers aren’t great, but the Padres play better with him in the lineup.

STRIKE 3: Padres must continue without their leader
David Eckstein, the starting shortstop for two World Series champions, might have been the most underrated player of the past decade.

Or not.

His .349 career on-base percentage as a leadoff hitter, his limited range and his four-finger throwing style never have overwhelmed scouts or statheads. But these are the numbers to watch after the Padres’ second baseman went on the disabled list with a calf injury Wednesday: 4-16 and 37-25.

The former was the Padres’ record when Eckstein was on the disabled list last July. The latter: Their record after his return, which was just a half-game off the Rockies’ league-best record during the stretch.

BONUS PITCH: Wishful thinking?
Tonight is Adrian Gonzalez bobblehead night at Class AAA Portland. That’s Portland, Maine, the home of the Red Sox’s Class AA affiliate and not Portland, Ore., home of the Padres’ Class AAA club. Perhaps the Sea Dogs were being optimistic in thinking that Gonzalez would be on the Red Sox by now? Not really. Gonzalez enjoyed a strong season in 2002 when he and the Sea Dogs were part of the Marlins’ organization.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

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