Garcia's solid start goes awry in sixth

May 11th, 2021

HOUSTON -- Astros right-hander Luis Garcia began throwing the cutter last year when he made his unexpected Major League debut, skipping Double-A and Triple-A, and it’s proven to be his most effective pitch so far in 2021. At least, it was his most effective pitch. 

Jared Walsh and Justin Upton walloped back-to-back homers, both on the cutter, to spark a four-run sixth-inning rally that allowed the Angels to come from behind and beat the Astros, 5-4, on Monday night in the series opener at Minute Maid Park. 

Garcia, who’s been plugged into the rotation for the injured Jake Odorizzi (right pronator strain), had allowed just one run entering the sixth and was two outs away from completing six innings for the first time in six career regular-season Major League starts, before Walsh and Upton cut the lead to 4-3. The Angels scored twice more in the sixth against reliever Brandon Bielak and shut down the Astros late.

“The cutter -- if they don’t cut, if they don’t do what they’re supposed to do, it’s kind of a nothing fastball,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “If they don’t cut, they usually cut over the fence, and that’s what they did. He was throwing great. We were trying to get him through that sixth inning, because our bullpen was short.” 

Entering Monday, Garcia had held opposing hitters to 1-for-18 (with the long hit being a single) with his cutter this year, for an .056 batting average against. He had thrown the cutter 19.8 percent of the time, which was the second-highest usage behind the fastball from his five-pitch arsenal. It’s a pitch he’s thrown predominantly to right-handed batters, who had a .540 OPS against him. 

On Monday, Garcia only threw the cutter 13 times among 92 pitches, trailing his fastball (43 pitches) and slider (23 pitches), which is his second-best pitch.  

“It was working for him early in the game, and he said he wanted to throw some more of them,” catcher Jason Castro said. “The one to Walsh, I thought was a pretty good pitch. I don’t know if it would have been called a strike. To Walsh’s credit, he pulled his hands in pretty well. 

“The one I think he wants back is the one to J-Up. That one kind of backed up in the middle of the plate, right where he likes it. If we could take that one back, we would. Other than a couple of pitches there, he had a nice outing besides those.”

The pitch to Walsh was 86 mph and inside, and the Angels’ first baseman sent it 360 feet to right field. The cutter to Upton was over the plate and got rocketed 377 feet over the Crawford Boxes in left field. Garcia, in frustration, glared into the distance as Upton began his home run trot. 

“I’m just going to keep improving,” Garcia said when asked about the cutter. 

Garcia, 24, is still seeking his first big-league win through seven games (five starts) this year. He’s posted a respectable 3.60 ERA and a solid 1.07 WHIP in 30 innings, with a .193 batting average against. When Odorizzi returns later this month, the Astros will either move him to the bullpen, where he has pitched in long relief twice earlier this year, or he’ll go to Triple-A Sugar Land to continue to be a starter.

Castro said Garcia has the stuff to help the Astros for the long term. 

“He’s got command of really all his pitches,” Castro said. “He’s got a curveball, slider and a cutter that are all actually different from each other, which is kind of rare, and his changeup plays really well. He’s got a plus mix across the board. He’s shown it. He’s handled himself really well in most of his outings. If we could limit some mistakes ... he’s going to be a big part of what we’re doing going forward.”