The St. Louis Cardinals have stayed close in the NL Central this season behind a patchwork pitching staff that has filled in admirably for a banged-up group of starters.
Jaime Garcia will be the latest stopgap, as the rookie left-hander makes his first major league start on Sunday, seeking to pitch the host Cardinals to a four-game sweep of the reeling San Diego Padres.
St. Louis’ close pursuit of the Chicago Cubs has been particularly impressive considering that Chris Carpenter hasn’t thrown a pitch this season after elbow surgery and Adam Wainwright has been out since June 7 with a finger problem.
Left-hander Mark Mulder finally made his first start after shoulder surgery on July 9, but he recorded only one out before feeling more pain. To replace Mulder, the Cardinals (56-43) recalled Garcia, a 22-year-old who was drafted in the 22nd round of the 2005 draft.
Garcia (0-0, 0.00 ERA) has developed into one of St. Louis’ top pitching prospects, but he has battled inconsistency at Triple-A Memphis. After starting the year with a 2.06 ERA in six starts for Double-A Springfield, he was 4-4 with a 4.59 ERA in 12 starts for Memphis.
The southpaw, who will become the 10th Cardinal to start a game this year, threw two shutout innings in relief at Pittsburgh in his major league debut on July 11, walking one and allowing one hit.
“He really wasn’t throwing that well when he came up, but he’s had good progress through the organization, and it’s a good chance for him to get his feet wet,” St. Louis manager Tony La Russa told his team’s official Web site. “Based on when I saw him pitch, I think he’s going to go out there and let it go.”
He’ll try to help the Cardinals to their fifth straight win—something they haven’t done since the first week of the season. They trailed 5-0 against the Padres after two innings Saturday, but rallied for a 6-5 win behind four RBIs by Albert Pujols.
St. Louis has scored 43 runs in its last five games, including 11 three times. Pujols is 10-for-21 over that span, while Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel are each 9-for-18 with a combined five homers and 14 RBIs.
“Albert’s having a great year,” La Russa said. “You just watch what he gets to hit every day and you’ll understand why he gets his base hits but some of the other production drops off.”
A win Sunday would give the Cardinals their first four-game sweep of the Padres (37-61) since July 1990, though this is only the sixth four-game set between the teams since then.
San Diego has won just once in six meetings with the Cardinals this season, and it hasn’t been winning much more often than that against any team over the last month. The Padres have now lost five straight and 22 of their last 28. They are 29th in the majors with 365 runs.
“You’ve just got to keep pushing,” Padres manager Bud Black told his team’s official Web site. “To a man, our guys are playing hard, breaking up double plays, hustling. We’re going out to win games.”
Cha Seung Baek (2-5, 5.25) will face the Cardinals for the first time after he was traded to San Diego from Seattle earlier this season. The right-hander is 1-3 with a 6.08 ERA and .304 opponent batting average in his last five appearances.
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