Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest  |  Last updated 2/13/13
JUPITER, Fla. - The questions have been the same the past few days, but so have the answers. And Cardinals manager Mike Matheny can't wait until left-hander Jaime Garcia can get through spring training and into the regular season to prove that he's back to full health. Garcia, who was forced to leave a start in Game 2 of the Division Series last fall due to reoccurring shoulder stiffness, was deemed 100 percent healthy in November and threw several bullpen sessions before his first official throw from the mound Tuesday. That hasn't stopped the questions from coming about Garcia's health, and they figure to continue until the left-hander gets past the spring and into games that count. "I don't think there's any intrigue," Matheny said. "Physically he looks great. It's just a normal spring as far as we're concerned. I think he just needs to get his mind around the fact that, Enough of the attention, I'm going to be pitching,' and just keep pitching. I think that's more of the adjustment he's making in his mind." Added Garcia on his current condition, "I'm really encouraged. I've been saying this the whole time, I'm feeling strong, I'm healthy, everything went this offseason as good as it could have gone. I'm at a point where I've worked so hard this offseason and I'm working hard now and taking it one day at a time. That's all I can worry about." Questions surrounding Garcia's health and availability to start the season are legitimate due to his continued issues with his left shoulder last season. At least three times he walked off the mound due to the shoulder and it caused him to be sidelined for nearly three months in the middle of last season. Garcia returned to make nine starts before the playoffs but was yanked from a Game 2 start against the Washington Nationals at Busch Stadium due to the shoulder after walking three and allowing two hits and a run in just two innings. The lefty got multiple opinions on his shoulder after the season but elected against surgery and in favor of rehab and rest. He worked his way up to a full bullpen session at Busch Stadium in November before shutting things down for the rest of the winter. Garcia began his normal throwing program around Jan. 1 and said he threw seven or eight bullpen sessions before arriving in camp. He threw his first official bullpen in front of a large crowd on Tuesday. And his progress was obvious to those watching. "He looks great," Matheny said. "He's just like everybody else. I imagine he's getting frustrated and I know he's getting frustrated having to answer these questions because he's just one of our five starters that's going to be ready to go and take the ball and have an opportunity to do what he can to help our club." Said pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, "He looks incredibly strong. His arm strength is there and he's in a good frame of mind. We look for good things from Jaime." Garcia, who went 7-7 with a 3.92 ERA in 20 starts last season, made news in December when his name was included on a preliminary list of stars committing to play in the upcoming World Baseball Classic despite finishing last season injured. But the 26-year-old said the announcement was a misunderstanding and he never intended to participate for Team Mexico and alerted them of his final decision before the final rosters were announced in January. Garcia enters the second year of a 4-year, 27 million contract in 2013. And no Chris Carpenter means the left-hander figures to be called upon as one of the leaders on the Cardinals pitching staff. That is, assuming he can put a frustrating 2012 behind him and stay healthy. "It was one of the toughest things I've had to experience in my career," Garcia said. "But you move forward, you learn from the bad and take the good things and move forward and that's what I did this offseason. I went home and had a good, positive mentality and I did everything asked of me to do and worked as hard as I possibly could and I've been saying this the whole time since the Winter Warm-up but I'm feeling healthy, I'm strong and I just want to take it one day at a time. "I came into camp like any other pitcher and obviously there's things I have to take care of which are a part of my career, doing my rehab stuff (between starts), but that's just part of it. But checkups with doctors, we're all clear of that. It's been normal the whole time." The Cardinals hope to see the normal, productive Garcia out on the mound all season long. And so far, so good.
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