'Incredible' Garcia battles, keys Astros' win

June 6th, 2021

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- There’s a case to be made that rookie Luis Garcia has been the Astros’ best starting pitcher this year not named Zack Greinke, who reminded everyone of his track record and ability by firing a complete game in Friday’s win over the Blue Jays.

All Garcia has done is deliver remarkable consistency, winning his fifth consecutive start Sunday afternoon by holding the Blue Jays’ potent offense to one run and three hits while tying a career high with eight strikeouts in six innings in the Astros’ 6-3 victory. The Astros took two of three games from the Blue Jays at their home away from home, Sahlen Field.

“He was impressive today, because he didn’t have his best stuff and he was sick,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “You saw him coughing on the mound. That’s one reason why we took him out earlier than last time, when he had 106 pitches, longer than he had ever gone. He wasn’t as sharp, but he made the pitches when he had to.”

After throwing a career-high 106 pitches on Tuesday against the Red Sox in Houston, Garcia was lifted after 79 pitches Sunday. Baker said Garcia was never in danger of not making the start, however. Garcia was unavailable to the media postgame because of his illness.

“No wild horses, as the [Rolling] Stones would say, could drag him away from that start,” Baker said. “That’s part of being a professional. You give it all you can like he gave us all that we needed and all that we wanted.”

Garcia (5-3) was considered a rotation fill-in, pitching in place of Lance McCullers Jr. when he was ill and Jake Odorizzi when he was on the injured list, but it’s hard to imagine the Astros won’t try to keep him in the rotation when McCullers comes off the IL, which should be later this month. Garcia has a 2.75 ERA in 59 innings this year, including a 5-0 record with a 1.86 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in his last five starts.

Even more impressive is that those starts have come against the Rangers, A’s, Dodgers, Red Sox and Blue Jays. Entering Sunday, the Dodgers ranked first in MLB in runs per game. The Blue Jays were third and the Red Sox fifth (the Astros were second). And the A’s have led the American League West for much of the season.

“He’s had an incredible performance this year,” said Yuli Gurriel, who reached base all five times on three singles and two walks. “I was actually one of the first ones to face him last year in camp, and I went in and told the coaches, ‘Who is this guy?’ He’s got some incredible stuff and he’s been really good for us.”

The only run Garcia allowed came on a second-inning sacrifice fly by Lourdes Gurriel Jr. He got 16 swings and misses, including nine on his cutter, which he threw 29 times -- second most behind his fastball (34) pitches. Garcia retired 12 of the final 14 batters he faced.

“I don’t know if you recall in Spring Training, but I said I was looking for surprise players, surprising rookies,” Baker said. “You’re expecting a young man to get his act together or get a new pitch and find his command and control with a change in his mechanics or a tweak in his mechanics. That’s why they call them rookies. You never know what to expect.”

Astros outfielder Chas McCormick, who hit a leadoff homer in the second, said he enjoys playing behind Garcia because of his momentum, how fast he works and the fact he’s a strike-thrower -- even when he’s under the weather. 

“He’s been doing a hell of a job,” he said.