Garcia ready to slide into Tigers' bullpen

February 14th, 2020

LAKELAND, Fla. -- caught on the way up.

It was just six weeks at Double-A Erie in the summer of 2017 on Garcia’s fast track from Class A West Michigan to Triple-A Toledo. It was enough. Garcia was a sixth-round Draft pick just a year earlier, but he looked like he belonged.

“It just felt like no matter what level that he was at, he was going to be the same guy,” Greiner said. “His stuff was obviously very good. Some guys when they go up a level, they try to throw harder or do too much to be nastier.”

Garcia allowed just two runs on seven hits in 18 2/3 innings with Erie that summer, striking out 24. He retired all 10 batters he faced over his final three appearances, striking out seven.

“Apparently, his stuff was stupid,” said Jake Rogers, who nearly faced the former University of Miami closer in the 2016 NCAA Tournament when Rogers was catching at Tulane.

Rogers would’ve caught Garcia in 2017, but the Justin Verlander trade that brought Rogers from Houston came near the end of the Minor League season. A few days later, Garcia threw his last pitches in a game for 19 months.

If not for Tommy John surgery in 2018, Garcia might have been a Tiger that year, teaming with Joe Jiménez to form a young duo behind Shane Greene. As Garcia begins his first Major League camp, having made his big league debut last September, he’s eager to make up for lost time.

“I’m so excited,” Garcia said. “I feel like surgery’s out of the way. It feels like I’m free. I can experience what it is to be a big leaguer, hopefully, and help this team out up there in Detroit.”

That’s the Tigers’ hope, too. As they try to build their bullpen around homegrown talent, Garcia has a chance for a big role.

“He has everything that a pitcher needs to have to be in the big leagues,” Jiménez said. “He’s a great pitcher. I think he’s going to be good. He’s a huge part of us for this year.”

In some ways, Garcia’s path to the big leagues is similar to Jiménez. Both leveraged dominant seasons into rapid promotions up the system. But while Jiménez lost six weeks to injury in 2017, Garcia lost a full season. But instead of using last season to get back up to speed, Garcia got to Detroit by the end.

“We just wanted to see his arm,” manager Ron Gardenhire said, “and he has a lot of life. The ball was jumping on him. And we put him in late in the game a couple times, which was pretty impressive eighth-inning stuff. He handled it very well. Now it’s just keep the progression going and get another year past that Tommy John and go from there.”

Garcia’s fastball averaged 94.2 mph with sink in his brief big league stint last year, according to Statcast. But it has deception, coupled with a power slider in the upper 80s that works as a strikeout pitch.

“He locates pretty well, but his fastball plays up a little bit,” Rogers said, “and his slider plays off of that.”

Garcia allowed nine runs on as many hits with five walks over 6 2/3 innings, but he struck out seven. He spent the offseason improving his pitches -- especially the slider.

“I felt like that was the pitch that I was holding back the most on last year, just because it’s such a forearm-dominated pitch, which is directly related to the Tommy John surgery,” Garcia said. “I feel like my arm is a lot more loose, a lot more whippy, which hopefully translates into good things on the mound.”