Freddy Garcia is back in his New York groove.
Instead, that Yankees team won the American League East division crown.
Fast forward to the second half of the 2012 baseball season, and the Yankees are asking themselves the same question once again. The easy, steady veteran's splitter danced and dived for six-and-two-third innings on Wednesday night, to help the Yankees earn a 3-2 win and series victory over Texas.
Most importantly, Garcia has turned it on when the Yankees have needed his best. Since rejoining the rotation in early July, Garcia is 4-3 with a 3.70 ERA, 41 strikeouts and only 14 walks. Oh yeah, in Garcia’s nine starts— since his exodus to the bullpen—he has five quality starts and no less than five innings pitched in each game.
Call it veteran savvy, chalk it up to experience or, refer to Garcia's success as an acquired wisdom—which can only come with age. Either way, he has befuddled American League batters over the past 45 days. Truth be told, Garcia’s turnaround started in the bullpen, where he was banished following his dismal April.
Garcia entered the season as the Yankees fifth starter and looked like he was not even capable of being a long-relief man for the Trenton Thunder, the Yankees Double-A affiliate. Garcia got smacked around the park by the Orioles, Twins, Red Sox and Tigers before manager Joe Girardi finally removed him from the starting rotation.
In the month of May, Garcia pitched only five times and all five appearances came late in Yankees’ losses where the 35-year old Venezuelan was doing the ignominious “mop-up duty.” Then came a Saturday afternoon extra inning stint in the nation’s capital, right in the midst of a big Yankees win-streak, that has served as the seminal moment of Garcia’s season.
Will Freddy Garcia make a postseason start for the Yankees?
Garcia came on for the 12th and 13th innings on a sweltering hot day against the Nationals and blanked them for two innings, just long enough for the Yankees to storm back and take the lead and ultimately the game. The Bombers tacked on two runs in the 14th inning to get Garcia the victory and suddenly he was a trusted man once again.
Garcia added another victory in a superb relief performance in late June at the stadium, unfortunately coming on the back-end of Andy Pettitte’s broken fibula injury that has left his season in peril. The injury, albeit a blow for the Yankees, has been fortuitous for Garcia as he’s had the chance to show that he’s still got it in the rotation.
Garcia candidly admitted after the victory over Texas on Wednesday that he was fighting “dead arm”, something that seems to run in the Yankees’ rotation. Phil Hughes was similarly afflicted with this odd injury that saps strength from the shoulder muscles in a pitcher’s arm.
Garcia said via the NY Post: “My arm was, like, dead. I went to the bullpen. I started feeling really good. My arm got better.”
As we trudge through the dog days of summer and the calendar gets ever closer to September, Garcia is presently a man that manager Joe Girardi can turn to every five days and feel confident in. He’s earned that trust over the last month-and-a-half and because of his excellent 2011 season.
Garcia doesn't have an eye-popping strikeout total, but by minimizing bases-on-balls and craftily pitching to contact, he has been able to carve out a niche in the fluctuating Yankees rotation.
Garcia also gives a reassuring feeling even if Andy Pettitte is unable to return from injury or if Ivan Nova’s struggles persist.
The perception and feeling of Garcia's success at the age of 35 is one of genuine surprise. The velocity on his pitches has declined with his increased age. The overwhelming majority of his outs come on balls put in play by opposing hitters. Yet he keeps finding a way to win, baffling the critics just as much as he is major league hitters.
The veteran started his career off as a power pitcher for the Seattle Mariners in 1999, relying on a mid-90s fastball with plenty of movement to rack up high strikeout totals. He won 17 games in his rookie season, pitching over 200 innings.
His 2001 season vaulted him into the discussion as one of the best pitchers in the American League, as he led the junior circuit in ERA and innings pitched. Garcia was the workhorse for the Mariners team which won the most games in MLB history.
After some arm trouble and injuries, he's since dialed down his fastball a solid 10-15 miles per hour, but both last year and now he's been no less effective. In fact, 2010 was perhaps a harbinger of things to come. Garcia produced 18 quality starts as a member of the Chicago White Sox, pitching in very hitter friendly U.S. Cellular Field.
A quality start is defined as a game in which the starting pitcher allows no more than three earned runs and pitches a minimum of six innings. He will remain in the Yankees rotation, and don't be surprised if the native Venezuelan finds himself pitching in a big spot come October.
With so much uncertainty on whether Ivan Nova can finish the season strong and whether Yankees stalwart Andy Pettitte will come off the disabled list, Garcia has been a model of consistency for the Bronx Bombers.
Following Wednesday night's Yankees victory Garcia said, “I don’t really have pressure,” he said. “I just go out there and try to do the best.”
With that kind of loose cool, it's no surprise Freddy Garcia has regained his composure and keeps coasting in 2012.