JUPITER, Fla. By evidence of his four-year, 27 million contract that begins this season, left-hander Jaime Garcia doesn't have to worry about his spot in the rotation.
After another solid campaign last year, the 25-year-old Cardinals starter has a spot reserved for him this year despite how good or bad he performs this spring.
But don't tell that him.
"I came in just like last year, trying to make the team," Garcia said Thursday. "I'm trying to get my work in and make progress and get better every single day and learn something every day. That's all I think about.
"I don't think about it like I'm established and making the team already, all I'm worried about right now is getting better each day and getting ready for Opening Day."
Garcia looked ready to start the season Thursday in his first start of the spring. Facing a formidable Boston Red Sox lineup, Garcia retired all six batters he faced in two quick innings of work.
The lefty had four strikeouts and threw 19 of his 27 pitches for strikes. He got Boston leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury swinging to start the game and then struck out Dustin Pedroia looking for the second out.
He struck out two more in the second inning, finishing an efficient and impressive outing without allowing a base runner.
"Wow, he was nasty," said manager Mike Matheny. "He just had great tempo. When he's like that and that ball is kind of running and cutting and sinking all over the place, it's no fun. You can see that people can't pick him up. It's a gift.
"It looked like they were missing the ball by quite a bit and those guys are some of the better you will see. It was encouraging."
Garcia burst onto the scene in his first year as a starter in 2010, going 13-8 with a 2.70 ERA. But the lefty struggled some in year two, posting a similar 13-7 record but a higher 3.56 ERA in 2011.
He gained valuable postseason experience last October, making five postseason starts including two in the World Series. Garcia posted a 4.21 ERA in 25 23 innings but showed his ability to succeed under pressure.
"The only way you get better is with experience," Garcia said. "Obviously I've been pitching two full years already, I have some playoff experience and World Series experience and that's part of the process.
"You have ups and downs, you learn from the mistakes and you get better. The playoff experience is huge for me right now but at the same time, I'm still the same guy this spring. I'm still learning more things and getting better."
Garcia allowed six hits and three runs in seven strong innings in his postseason debut in Game 3 of the Division Series against the Phillies at Busch Stadium. But he was working on a shutout until a two-out, three-run pinch-hit home run from Ben Francisco erased a scoreless tie and put a negative finish on a stellar day.
The lefty was even better in his World Series debut, tossing seven shutout innings on just three hits in Game 2 against the Rangers. Garcia would have earned the win had the Cardinals not blown the save in the ninth inning.
Garcia altered his offseason throwing program following a taxing 2011, starting to throw in late December instead of early December as in past years. He threw just one bullpen before arriving in Florida, well less than his usual total.
The left-hander has noticed the results, saying he feels great and is excited with how well his arm feels. And he eventually admitted the obvious.
"I look at it as come in and be the same exact guy," Garcia said. "Obviously I know that I'm going to be on the team but I don't think about it like that. The way I see it is the way I was two years ago, work as hard as I can every single day - on the field, off the field and in the training room.
"I feel really good. I'm healthy, I feel strong. I'm just going to keep working. I've been having a good spring so far. I'm just going to try and keep it going."