St. Louis Cardinals

Cardinals (again) turn to Garcia; Heyward back in leadoff spot

In their attempt to find a replacement for injured starter Adam Wainwright, the St. Louis Cardinals are thus far 0-for-2.

The Cardinals, who employed Tim Cooney once and Tyler Lyons twice, will turn to option No. 3 at 12:10 p.m. Thursday when often-injured left-hander Jaime Garcia will get the ball against the New York Mets at Citi Field.

Garcia is coming off two rehab outings, one at Class AAA Memphis and one at Class AA Springfield. He was shut down in spring training with shoulder discomfort after undergoing thoracic outlet surgery last summer that ended his season after seven starts.

“We had great reports on his last start,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “We need somebody to step up.”

It’s a precarious situation for the Cardinals, who on more than one occasion have been exasperated by Garcia’s unavailability due to injury. But General Manager John Mozeliak is willing to forget the past, under the circumstances.

“The key thing for us was just how he felt the last couple of days after throwing Friday night,” Mozeliak said. “Everything seems to be good and responding well, so he’ll be given that opportunity. I’m optimistic, most importantly because of what he’s telling us, specifically me, on how he’s feeling.”

Lyons was optioned to Memphis on Sunday, replaced on the roster by reliever Sam Tuivailala. Garcia likely will replace Tuivailala on Thursday.

Garcia, who allowed two runs (earned) on six hits, walked none and struck out six in six inning for Springfield on Friday against Northwest Arkansas, said he feels better now than at any point in spring trainiing, even in the early stages when he was effective in Grapefruit League games.

“It’s a process,” Garcia said Sunday. “We all know I had a tough surgery last year and it’s something that’s not easy to recover (from). My mind, going into spring training, was thinking, ‘I’m ready to go. I’m ready to compete.’ That’s the kind of person I am, the kind of competitor I am. But to be realistic, I needed a little more time. We’ll see what happens.

“I’m ready to compete and I’m excited to be here. Just to be here and having the opportunity to be back in this clubhouse with my teammate is something that I’m extremely grateful and thankful for. I know it’s been a long road, but I’m extremely excited to be here.”

Marco Gonzales, who might have been considered for the start, has not pitched well since coming off the disabled list with a shoulder injury. He has allowed 12 runs (11 earned) in two starts and 6 1/3 innings for Memphis, with three walks and two strikeouts.

But the Cardinals are not discouraged. In fact, they are encouraged that Gonzales (0-1, 7.66 ERA) again is feeling better and they’re certain he will pitch more effectively in coming weeks.

“Coming off his DL stint, he hasn’t responded in terms of a performance standpoint,” Mozeliak said. “The good news is, physically, he feels good. But he’s not quite where he needs to be from a performance standpoint to where we could be comfortable calling on him. But I do think he’s getting closer.”

Mozeliak isn’t ready to concede to the perceived likelihood that the Cardinals will have to fill Wainwright’s huge void from outside the organization.

“Let’s just see how Jaime does,” Mozeliak said. “Let’s give him a chance to see if he can be that pitcher. Clearly, starting Thursday he will get that opportunity every fifth day. We have to be thinking that if we can’t do it from within, we may have to look externally. But we’re not at that point where we feel we have to do something now.”

Heyward hits first

Matheny never expected to use Jason Heyward in the leadoff spot, but that’s where Heyward found himself for the first time this season Sunday against Detroit.

“We’ve had a lot of different things happen,” Matheny said. “Jon Jay was starting to fit into that spot and we were kind of liking how that was all playing out. Then we put him on the disabled list and we tried to put Kolten (Wong) there and he didn’t quite look right. We saw him taking some really good swings at other spots in the lineup.

“You see what works. Part of that is getting Jason going and getting him comfortable. He and I talked. I asked him what he thought about it. He said he wasn’t that much against it, even in Atlanta. He was trying to get himself right there as well. He understands where we are right now. He’s ready to fill whatever spot we have.”

Heyward batted leadoff 94 times last season with the Braves.

Jay getting closer

Jay, on the disabled list with tendinitis in his left wrist, participated in fielding drills prior to the game Sunday and could return when he becomes eligible May 26.

“He’s still working on getting the strength,” Matheny said. “I haven’t really talked with the trainers or asked them to give me their expectations. But I would imagine, just watching the things that he’s doing ... I’m sure he’s anxious to get back.”

Jay almost certainly will return to the No. 1 spot upon his return. The Cardinals love Matt Carpenter holding down the second spot in the order, so he isn’t likely to return to the top. Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk also have batted first this season.

Miller’s near no-no

Former Cardinals pitcher Shelby Miller, packaged to the Braves with pitcher Tyrell Jenkins for Heyward and Jordan Walden, threw a two-hit shutout against Miami on Sunday.

“Impressive,” Matheny said. “But not that surprising. He’s a tough kid.”

Miller was within one out of a no-hitter when he surrendered a single to Justin Bour. Miller, however, is 5-1 with a 1.33 ERA in seven starts this season.

Contact reporter David Wilhelm at dwilhelm@bnd.com or 618-239-2665. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidMWilhelm.

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