Joey Votto wrecked Jaime Garcia’s return to the St. Louis Cardinals’ rotation Tuesday.
The talented Cincinnati first baseman walked and singled in his first two plate appearances against Garcia, then walloped a towering three-run homer to center in the sixth inning to break a scoreless tie and power the Reds to a 4-0 victory at Busch Stadium.
“I guess it wasn’t good enough,” Garcia said dejectedly after an 80-pitch outing in which he permitted three runs (earned) on four hits in six innings, with two walks and five strikeouts. “I’ve got to do a better job next time when a big situation comes up.”
Garcia was pitching for the first time at the big-league level since June 24 at Miami when he suffered a strained left groin while running the bases. He was coming off a five-inning no-hitter in a minor-league rehab start Thursday for low-Class A Peoria of the Midwest League.
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Garcia sailed through the first five innings against the Reds, with Votto being the only player to reach base against him. The rest of the Cincinnati lineup was 0-for-14 with four strikeouts.
“He was rolling,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “That was impressive to watch through five. Fifty-three or so pitches and one hit. Obviously, you look back at the home-run pitch, but he made a lot of good pitches up until that point.”
Garcia set down eight in a row after Votto’s two-out walk in the first. Votto ended the streak with a one-out single in the fourth, but he was erased on a 1-4-3 double play.
After another one-two-three inning in the fifth, Garcia ran into trouble against his Reds counterpart, Mike Leake, the subject of ongoing trade rumors.
Leake singled sharply to right on an 0-2 pitch and went to second on Billy Hamilton’s sacrifice. Garcia’s throw to second baseman Kolten Wong at first was into the runner, but Wong made a nice grab with his foot on the bag, then quickly avoided the oncoming Hamilton.
Jason Bourgeois fanned for the second out, but Garcia couldn’t put away Brandon Phillips after getting ahead in the count 1-2. Phillips walked on a 3-2 pitch.
“I thought it was close,” Garcia said. “It was inside; it was a borderline ball. From my perspective, it was a no-doubt strike. But once I saw it (on replay), it could have gone either way.”
Catcher Yadier Molina visited Garcia when the count reached 2-2 on Phillips, but Garcia missed outside with the next delivery and just off the plate inside on ball four.
Votto then took a ball before launching his 418-foot homer into the grassy hitter’s background beyond the center-field fence. It was Votto’s 19th home run of the season and the first of his career against Garcia, against whom he is 9-for-31 (.290) with five RBIs.
“He was trying to make a good pitch to Phillips right there,” Matheny said. “It was a close pitch, but it ended up getting away. That’s the (big) one. ... I think it was probably a ball, but it was close. Two-out walks do come back to haunt you when you’re getting toward the middle of the order. Votto is swinging the bat well and he’s not going to let a whole lot of mistakes by.”
Garcia bemoaned the 91-mph fastball to Votto.
“It was a mistake,” Garcia said. “You don’t take anything away from him. He’s one of the best hitters in the game. I’ve just got to make a better pitch right there. ... The bottom line is that at the end of the game, we lost the game and I didn’t make a pitch in that big situation.”
Garcia was most discouraged about losing Leake.
“He’s a good-hitting pitcher, but the pitch I beat myself down the most about was the 0-2 hit he got. That should never happen,” Garcia said. “I don’t care how good he swings the bat.”
Garcia was encouraged that the injured groin no longer was a factor. Garcia sprinted to first in an attempt to beat out a grounder to shortstop Eugenio Suarez in the third inning, smelling an infield single that would have put runners at first and third with one out.
“I took off nice and easy,” Garcia said. “It’s the competitive part of me that comes out. I saw that I had a chance, and I think halfway is when I sped up a little bit. It could have been a big situation, first and third with one out. I was looking at it that way. Maybe I’ve got to take it easy. I don’t know. The competitiveness of me comes out.”
The Cardinals have been shut out in all four of Garcia’s losses.
“I don’t even pay attention to that,” Garcia said. “Their pitcher (Leake) did an amazing job. He’s a good one out there, and he battled. I don’t really think about those things or worry about those situations. I’ve got to do a better job to make pitches.”
Matheny has noticed the Cardinals’ offense being shut down with Garcia on the hill.
“I’d love to see us go out and give him a bunch of runs right from the top and let him go,” Matheny said. “There’s no reason why he couldn’t be into the eighth or ninth inning almost every time he goes out there with the style of pitching he has right now - a lot of movement and keeping guys off-balanced. Almost every start is a fight to score for him. That will change.”