PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. • New Cardinals catcher Brayan Pena, handling, or trying to handle, Jaime Garcia for the first time in a game, was euphoric.
“Whoo, man! It’s amazing,” Pena said. “His ball moves all over the place. Everything he throws is real nasty.”
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny long has contended that his lefthander doesn’t throw anything straight. And, of the 53 pitches Garcia fired on Thursday in blanking the New York Mets for 3 2/3 innings, Pena said, “Probably one,” when asked how many pitches Garcia threw which didn’t dart one way or the other.
Matheny had joked before the game that he hoped to see “more effective” pitches from Garcia than when he allowed two long home runs last week against Houston, and that indeed happened.
Garcia employed more sinkers but still threw an assortment of curveballs and changeups and Pena said he was just trying to hang on. Matheny said Garcia “threw one to (Neil) Walker that looked like dropped a foot.”
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“You have to be ready,” Pena said. “That’s something I got from Mike Matheny and Yadier Molina — that’s the feedback they gave me.
“I’ve never seen anything like that before. Every time that I was catching, I felt Matheny on this side and Yadier Molina on this side. Don’t get too comfortable out there. Continue to be on your toes, because he’s got so much movement that if you fall asleep you’ll commit a passed ball or something.”
Pena admitted, as the game went along, he was trying to give quicker signs to keep up with Garcia’s pace “because I know how uncomfortable it is for hitters against a guy like him to feel like ‘he’s rushing me, he’s rushing me.’ He’s not. He’s just keeping that tempo going. He keeps you guessing and guessing. Then you see it’s the fourth inning, fifth inning and the game is pretty much over.”
Garcia acknowledged that hitters he’s played with “don’t like it when pitchers are working quick. I know when I’m going at my best I’m quick and fast. It’s a fine line. You don’t want to go too quick, but I’ve always liked that. Don’t give the hitter too much time to think what I’m going to throw, so it’s good.”
And, as for his movement, Garcia said, “I was a 25th rounder (actually 22nd round draft pick) that had no movement at all. I threw 85 (miles per hour), so I’ve had to work really hard to accomplish those things. I wasn’t gifted with this way of throwing the ball. It’s something that I’ve had to work really, really hard on.”
Garcia said he had some help from different coaches in the minors but he said, “Other than that, it’s just myself. You always hear that saying of how you’re your own best coach. I’m always watching video of myself and feeling what pitches are working, what are not.”
Echoing Pena, Matheny said, “He’s one of the most difficult guys you’ll have to catch because the ball runs all over the place and it’s not consistent run. You can catch anybody’s movement or velocity once you see it a couple times, if it becomes predictable. But he’s not. That’s also part of the beauty of why he’s so difficult to put the good part of the bat on. The ball just does something you don’t see.
“I don’t really care how it happens or why. He just needs to keep doing it.”
ADAMS SMOKES SMOKER
First baseman Matt Adams, fighting to retain his first-base job, drilled an opposite-field homer off lefthander Josh Smoker and then doubled to right. He had been one for nine before that.
“It’s just about getting the timing down and keeping my front side in there longer, especially against lefties,” said Adams.
Adams struggled trying to figure out defensive shifts last season, a year marked by a quadriceps tear which required surgery.
“The shift’s not even in my head anymore,” he said. “The other day the Marlins shifted and I didn’t even know they were until I got into the dugout and somebody said they did. I learned to just kind of let that go instead of letting it get in the back of my mind.”
There isn’t less of Big City now but his body is more streamlined. Not so streamlined that he would be in the shortstop derby.
“We’d be in some trouble if I was playing shortstop,” said Adams. “We’d be in trouble.”
Lefthander Tim Cooney shoulder) has been cleared to pitch and likely will appear Saturday in one of the split-squad games. Righthander Mitch Harris (shoulder) got his first action on Thursday and got out of a fourth-inning spot but allowed a two-run homer in the fifth to Ruben Tejada.
• Lefthander Marco Gonzales (jammed finger) had to be removed from Wednesday’s game after an inning, but he will remain on the starters’ program and had no troubles Thursday. He jammed his finger backing up a base.
• Third baseman Patrick Wisdom (hamstring) will miss about a week as he recovers from soreness.
• Minor league third baseman Paul DeJong, a high draft pick last year from Illinois State, was brought on the trip and doubled to left in the ninth inning.
“How about that at-bat?” said Matheny. “You’ve got shadows, you’ve got 92 sink on your hands, and he looks like he’s done this before. We’ve heard good things about him. My son (Tate) has played against him a lot and said he’s one of the better hitters he had seen.”
• Read more: Garcia, Diaz are versatile prospects at shortstop