Garcia confident in rotation returnChief's turn to help Yankees overcome injuries to Sabathia and Pettitte
Freddy Garcia is one who’s overcome shoulder injuries that morphed him from a 90-plus MPH fireballer into a slop-throwing, change-of-speed pitcher built on survival. Working more off guts and guile than ability, the Chief willed his way to a 12-8 record and a 3.62 ERA in a 2011 season with little expectations. And, considered the odd man out of the rotation when the Yankees acquired Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda in the offseason, Garcia again found a way to survive when Pineda’s labrum surgery opened the door back into the starting five.
So how was it that a man who has always found a way to survive saw himself sent to the bullpen after going 0-2 with a 12.51 ERA in April and failing to get out of the second inning in his last two starts? The door seemed slammed shut, and after being banished to long relief, the veteran right-hander appeared to be on borrowed time when Andy Pettitte returned from retirement two weeks later and looked as if he never left in the first place.
Garcia was stumped, as his arm felt fine but the results weren’t there. Being the battler that he is, though, the Chief used the inactivity that defines the life of a long man to figure it out, and after posting a 1.56 ERA in 10 relief appearances in May and June, he will return to the rotation Monday against the Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla., with a chance to stay for awhile. And, as his second chance comes up, Garcia says he’s feeling a lot stronger, and is hopeful that he’s finally discovered exactly what was missing during that nightmare April.
“Everything is working. My fastball is better. My slider is better. Change-up,” Garcia said. “Something was wrong, but I wasn’t feeling like I couldn’t let it go. Something was off. Every start in April I was one pitch away from getting out of an inning and I never did. That’s why I went to the bullpen.”
Unlike Adam Warren, optioned back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Saturday, Garcia will not be one-and-done. With CC Sabathia (Grade 1 left groin strain) disabled until the All-Star break and Pettitte out two months with a broken fibula, it’s up to Garcia to continue an amazing Yankees run (17-5 in their last 22 games) sparked by a resurgent starting rotation. Last month, Yankees starters were 15-4 with a 2.62 ERA (take away Warren's six ER in 2.1 IP last Friday and the ERA is 2.35). And don't look now, but the Yankees have three pitchers with at least nine wins (Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes), two less than AL starters combined, and with one more victory Hiroki Kuroda will join the club.
Despite Garcia’s current numbers (2-2, 6.39 ERA), he makes his first start since April 28 against whom he’s not only enjoyed success but an AL East rival reeling offensively. The Chief has won three straight starts versus Tampa Bay with a 1.32 ERA over his last two, both at Tropicana Field. The Rays enter this three-game set 7 ½ games behind the Yankees in the AL East – one game out of last place -- and batting .210 while being outscored, 39-17, in losing six of their last seven.
Garcia has kept sharp between his recent workload – he appeared in games twice last week after only three appearances in 15 days – and long tossing on the side. He anticipates not only throwing between 80-100 pitches, but receives his second chance feeling better and with more positive perspective.
“I feel good and when you feel good you can start or relieve or whatever,” Garcia said. “You have to have a positive mind and do what it takes to get better every time. That’s the way it goes. You have to wait for your chance.”
Even if David Phelps is lights out until the break and Garcia returns to relief duty, what Garcia has is something that was in question at the beginning of May, stability. For whatever reason Garcia didn’t have it in April and because of it many in Yankees Universe wanted him gone. Now at a time when Yankees starters are rolling despite two-thirds of the rotation on the shelf, Garcia brings his survival abilities to the table, which has Joe Girardi confident he’ll provide even more of a boost.
“We saw him start to turn the corner and pitching better for us, and I think that’s important,” Girardi said. “He's not as stretched out as we would like, but it's something we have to deal with. I thought his fastball was better. I thought his slider got better and I thought his split got better. That’s a big part of his arsenal.
“Freddy’s done it for us before. He’s an experienced guy. We know Freddy doesn’t get caught up in the moment. He did a great job for us last year and it looks like his stuff is back.”
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