Yankees' patience with Garcia paying off
Entering their four-game set at Yankee Stadium, the two-time defending American League champion Texas Rangers had a slim half-game lead over the Yankees in the battle for home-field advantage. But the Bombers have taken the first three games of the series, winning once again Wednesday in impressive fashion behind a wonderful start from Freddy Garcia and just enough offense from the likes of Nick Swisher and Eric Chavez.
The game began very ominously, as the skies opened up and the game did not begin until 8:45 p.m., almost 1 hour, 45 minutes after the scheduled first pitch. Once the game got going, the Yankees’ offense did just enough in the third inning to support Garcia’s strong outing. The right-hander went 6 2/3 innings, and his only blemishes were two moon-shot solo home runs by Josh Hamilton. Garcia otherwise limited the damage, and the bullpen came in to finish off another home victory over Texas.
“His off-speed [pitches] was tremendous tonight,” Joe Girardi said after the game. “He mixed in his fastball enough to keep them off balance. He kept them out of their game, which is to try to put pressure on you.”
“Ever since he came back from the bullpen, he’s been tremendous,” Russell Martin said of Garcia. “I think part of it is he got a little velocity back. When his velocity is up a little, all his pitches are a little sharper and a little crisper, and I think that’s what we’re seeing right now.”
Garcia -- aided by Boone Logan, David Robertson and Rafael Soriano, who ultimately closed out the game -- earned his fifth win in nine starts since returning to the rotation on July 2. That is the most wins over that span by any Yankees starting pitcher. He also has a 3.69 ERA with 41 strikeouts and just 14 walks, and opponents are hitting .261 against him in the 53 2/3 innings he’s pitched since Andy Pettitte’s injury.
Even when it seemed like Garcia was on the ropes Wednesday night, in the fourth inning after giving up one of the solo home runs to Hamilton and then loading the bases, he immediately dug down for something extra and induced an inning-ending double play that changed the course of the game for good.
“I’m pitching better right now; all my pitches are working,” Garcia said after the win. “I have a good fastball. I wasn’t good in April, and I spent two months in the bullpen trying to figure things out. In April I was really struggling, but now I’m feeling really good, throwing strikes. I went to the bullpen, I started feeling good, and right now I feel really good.”
His stint in the bullpen and the Yankees’ patience in giving him a second chance after calls for an outright release have really paid off for the Bombers.
“He had some nice outings out of the bullpen,” Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. “I think it helped him. He doesn’t say much, but I don’t think his arm was at full strength when we started the season, although he went through the full spring. Sometimes with older guys, it’s just little things come up and they always figure they can pitch through it. I think the rest, and to get him back going again, certainly helped.”
It’s performances like these, from players that have stepped up in the wake of many injuries, that have allowed the Yankees to earn their 70th win on the season and move 23 games over .500, giving them the American League’s best record.
Eric Chavez is another example of a player stepping up in absence of a Yankees star. Chavez has played a steady third base in the wake of Alex Rodriguez’s injury and has even given the team a lift with his bat. Chavez had his sixth multi-hit game in a row Wednesday, going 3-for-3 with an RBI. He’s gone 14-for-23, a .609 clip, over those six games.
“My swing feels good, that’s for sure,” Chavez said. “I was tinkering with it. I found something I was real comfortable with in Detroit, and I’m seeing the ball good. I’m swinging at strikes, which definitely helps too. I’m not going to be this hot for the rest of the season, that’s for sure, so I’ll enjoy it while I can.”
“When you lose a player of Alex’s caliber and Chavy’s asked to step in and play an important role -- he’s hitting fifth in this lineup and he’s done it,” Girardi said of Chavez’s recent performance. “But this is a guy who’s not unfamiliar with putting up big numbers and being successful. This is a guy that really knows how to play the game, and the only thing that’s really slowed him down some is his injuries.”
The Yankees are back to their winning ways, and they are doing it behind guys who are stepping up, filling voids and beating top-notch opponents. By taking the first three games of their four-game series against the Rangers, the Yankees have set themselves up for a nice stretch run. If all things stay the same, the team can know that they will have an opportunity to play at home in October against a Rangers team that has lost eight straight games in the Bronx.