Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia has battled through season-ending shoulder surgery, a setback in Spring Training and a rainout to reach Sunday, when he'll be activated from the disabled list to make his 2014 debut with St. Louis.
Now, a new challenge awaits Garcia -- a Braves lineup that has found success against left-handed pitchers.
"I'm at a point where I can compete and I can go out there and do what is asked of me to do," Garcia said. "Obviously, you don't have it all figured out, but you go out there and can think about pitching and getting hitters out, not just how bad your shoulder is going to hurt."
Garcia returned to St. Louis on Wednesday after throwing five innings for Triple-A Memphis on Monday. The expectation was for Garcia to make his season debut Saturday against Atlanta, but a rainout Wednesday altered those plans, pushing the lefty's long-awaited return to Sunday.
Sunday will mark nearly one full year since Garcia has pitched in the Majors. His last appearance on the mound was May 17 last year before he underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum. Inflammation in Spring Training kept Garcia from making the Opening Day roster, and getting hit on the elbow while batting May 4 in a Double-A rehab appearance caused tenderness and forced him to exit after two innings.
Finally, though, Garcia was in the outfield at Busch Stadium prior to Saturday afternoon's game making his final preparations for his return to the team.
"I haven't seen that much of him," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We're excited to watch him. Everything we're hearing is very positive, but most of the progress that's happened has been out of sight for us. So we'll see."
For the Braves, who have struggled to find offensive consistency, Garcia's return might be a welcome sign as they conclude their six-game road trip. Atlanta is 4-2 against lefties this season, hitting .273 against left-handed pitchers compared to a .231 mark against righties entering Saturday.
Braves third baseman Chris Johnson has gone 11-for-21 against lefties in the first quarter of the 2014 season. Johnson has faced Garcia more than any other Braves hitter and has found success (5-for-14).
"You look at matchups and you look at the guy who's pitching and think we've got no chance today and that's the night you score 11," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "And then you're champing at the bit and thinking we're going to crush whoever because the matchup is favorable whether he's a lefty or a righty and the next thing you know, he's in the eighth with a one-hitter. That's the game of baseball."
The Braves will send Gavin Floyd to the hill on Sunday. The right-hander, like Garcia, has worked his way back into the rotation following a lengthy recovery from Tommy John surgery.
In two starts this season, Floyd is 0-1 with a 2.70 ERA. He's looking to bounce back from a loss to the Giants in which he allowed four runs (three earned) over 6 1/3 innings.
Garcia threw a bullpen session Thursday without any issues, clearing him to be activated. Matheny said Garcia would be held to 95 pitches in his debut.
"I'm not going to be asking how many pitches I've got or what the plan's going to be. I'm going to go out and treat it like any other game," Garcia said. "If I throw 100 [pitches], 95, 80, 90, that's going to be up to the coaches to decide. I'm just going to be out there until he takes the ball out of my hand."
After all, that's what he's been waiting a year for.
"There have been some bumps in the road -- setbacks here and there -- but that's part of the process, part of the game," Garcia said. "Those are some things you have to deal with and, fortunately, I've been able to take those things and find the positive out of the negative."
Braves: Gonzalez awaiting Braves' offensive hot streak
Through the early part of the 2014 season, Atlanta has had numerous close calls and has often found itself one big hit away. So far this season, 32 of the Braves' 41 games have been decided by three or fewer runs.
"We've got a talented club and teams go through this stuff. I don't even know what our record is, but it's above .500 obviously, and we haven't even swung the bats like we're capable of and we just keep hanging around," Gonzalez said. "And sooner or later, we'll start swinging like we're capable of."
In May, the Braves are 5-10 while scoring two runs or fewer in 11 of the 15 games. After scoring first in the second inning Saturday, Atlanta did not score again in a 4-1 loss to St. Louis.
"Last year, there were a couple of different times when we made a big run. I'm talking a 10-game winning streak, a 12-game winning streak, and we haven't done that this year," Gonzalez said. "The offense is the one that's keeping us from doing that. I'm expecting us at any time for our club to get into one of those streaks."
Cardinals: Molina feeling good behind the plate
While the day game Saturday following Friday's night game provided an opportunity for a prototypical off-day for catcher Yadier Molina, Matheny said he didn't give resting his prized catcher much thought.
"He's had more days off I'd imagine, this year, already, than he had the whole first half last year," Matheny said. "We're timing them as he feels he needs them, as it looks like he needs a day. The night game, day game thing tends to lead itself that way, but he's feeling good at the plate and feeling good behind."
Molina has started 38 of the Cardinals' 43 games this season. He went 2-for-3 in Friday's victory and followed it up with a 1-for-2 day at the plate on Saturday.
With an off-day around the corner on Monday, Matheny hinted that it's likely Molina will find his name on the lineup card in the series finale.
• St. Louis will need to make a roster move prior to Sunday's game to activate Garcia from the 15-day disabled list. That move will likely come from the bullpen, shrinking it from eight pitchers back to seven. Reliever Jason Motte is also a possibility to be activated Sunday, which would require a second bullpen demotion.
• Cardinals shortstop Jhonny Peralta has faced Floyd more than any other player on St. Louis' roster. He has a career .308 (12-for-39) average against the right-hander with two homers and seven RBIs.
• Following Sunday's series finale at Busch Stadium, Atlanta will head home for a nine-game homestand. The Braves are 1-4 through the first five games of their current six-game, seven-day road trip.
• If St. Louis finds itself in a save situation Sunday, Matheny will have a decision to make. Closer Trevor Rosenthal closed out his third game in as many days on Saturday for the Cardinals, the second time he has done so in his career.
Alex Halsted is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.