Garcia lacks command, but Astros unworried

Houston to monitor rookie’s workload as they approach ‘uncharted waters’

September 12th, 2021

HOUSTON -- The Astros had a couple of items in their favor heading into their game Saturday. They had won nine of 13 meetings with the Angels this season, and they’ve been on a red-hot offensive tear that had produced double-digit runs scored twice in their last four games.

But while both trends didn’t sway the game into their favor on Saturday at Minute Maid Park, there was another quirky stat that did prove to be a factor: two of those four losses to the Angels were games started by Luis Garcia. And with the 4-2 loss, his mediocre, albeit uncharacteristic, record in games against this intradivision rival continued.

“It happens,” Garcia said. “I was trying to throw strikes. Sometimes, I couldn’t. It’s part of the game.”

Garcia, an AL Rookie of the Year candidate, struggled to get ahead of Angels hitters from the get-go. His four-seamer was hit especially hard in the first inning, which allowed three of the first four Angels hitters to record hits. Garcia threw a curveball and a changeup to Luis Rengifo to fall behind in the count, 2-0, and Rengifo connected on the next pitch -- a 93 mph four-seamer -- grounding out for an RBI.

The same sequence arose in the third inning. Garcia fell behind Rengifo again, 2-0, on two changeups, and Rengifo connected on the third pitch -- a 91 mph four-seamer -- that carried 371 feet to right field for a two-run homer.

“We fell behind a lot in counts,” catcher Martín Maldonado said. "The curveball wasn’t landing, the changeup was a little bit off and the cutter, a pitch that has been really good for him, especially against right-handers, wasn’t in the strike zone as much. Then we had to go to the fastball for the most part, and that’s when they did some damage against us.”

Garcia couldn’t pinpoint what exactly was off about this start. He said he didn’t feel out of rhythm early, but he also wasn’t able to recreate what was working for him in his last start against the Padres.

“To be honest, I was trying to do the same as I did in San Diego,” he said. “But I couldn’t.”

The loss did little to affect the Astros in the standings, as the Mariners and A’s both trail the club by 5 1/2 games after losing on Saturday as well.

The Astros just began a stretch of 17 games in a row without a day off, and given how late into the season it is, what happens during a loss can matter more than the loss itself. Brandon Bielak relieved Garcia with three scoreless innings, saving the bullpen from becoming overtaxed. It’s a sidebar to this game that might loom large in another couple of weeks when this stretch of consecutive games ends.

The Astros are in a little bit of unfamiliar territory with Garcia, who is up to 139 innings pitched, the most he’s pitched in his career. The closest he’s come to this workload was in the Minor Leagues in 2019, when he logged 108 2/3 innings.

The Astros are monitoring him closely, as they will clearly need him at his peak as they continue their postseason push. Garcia’s lack of command Saturday was not cause for alarm, but with the workload not likely to ease for a while, the Astros will have to manage him carefully as the regular season draws to a close.

“That was the first time in a while that his stuff hasn’t looked the same,” manager Dusty Baker said. “We've been limiting his innings. We were hoping to take him a little further in the game tonight to prepare him for these last three weeks or so. It's kind of territory that he hadn't been in before, uncharted waters. He’s certainly strong enough and determined enough. I just know he'll be sharp and better next time.”

Maldonado was firm with his assertion that Garcia is up to the task. He viewed Saturday’s game as a fluke, rather than a red flag.

“His stuff is there,” he said. “That guy is a monster, that guy works harder than anybody in our rotation. Every time you look, there’s two guys in the weight room -- it’s him and Framber [Valdez].

“If you don’t throw good pitches in the big leagues, you’re going to pay for it. And that’s what happened tonight.”