HOUSTON -- Right-handed pitcher Luis Garcia continues to be "Johnny on the Spot" for the Astros, filling in wherever manager Dusty Baker sees fit and doing it well. Houston got a glimpse of that last year, when Garcia was one of 10 rookies to make his Major League debut and the only one to earn a start in the playoffs.
Garcia has already made three starts in a pinch this season, including Thursday’s 1-0 loss to Seattle at Minute Maid Park, in which he held the Mariners to one run -- a solo homer in the third by Taylor Trammell -- on three hits in five strong innings to lower his ERA to 2.70.
“I think it went well today,” Garcia said. “I threw five innings, which is something I try to do every time I go out. I did my job out there today.”
The homer to Trammell barely cleared the right-field wall, and was just missed by leaping right fielder Chas McCormick. It traveled only 359 feet and had a .270 expected batting average.
“He was throwing the ball great and just gave up the solo home run,” Baker said. “McCormick almost caught it. It just went off the tip of his glove. I didn’t think he had a chance at that ball, but that was a great effort. It might have been a different ballgame had he brought that down.”
“We pitched great. They pitched great, especially Kikuchi,” Baker said. “He was dotting the outside part of the plate with his sinker and his breaking ball and his cutter. He had it going on both sides of the plate, and you could tell by the swings our hitters had [that] he was on today. He was on up there in Seattle a couple of weeks ago but ... he was even better today than when we faced him up there.”
Garcia, 24, made the rotation out of camp and started April 5, after Framber Valdez got hurt in the spring and Jake Odorizzi signed late. He then started in place of the ill Lance McCullers Jr. on April 20 in Colorado. He’s also made two relief appearances, including 4 1/3 scoreless innings on April 12 against the Tigers.
On Thursday, Garcia tossed 73 pitches as he took Odorizzi’s spot in the rotation, after the veteran went on the injured list earlier this week. He was set to be on a 75-pitch limit anyway, after throwing 26 pitches in relief on Sunday against the Angels.
Garcia’s versatile pitch mix was on display against the Mariners. He has five different pitches to battle right-handers and left-handers, and relies heavily on his four-seam fastball (94.4 mph average), which accounted for 40% of his pitches on Thursday. He got four whiffs on his fastball and changeup, and three each on his cutter and slider. He also mixed in seven curveballs.
When everybody gets healthy -- Valdez’s return appears to be a few weeks away, and Odorizzi could be back early next month -- the Astros will have rotation depth. Zack Greinke, McCullers, José Urquidy, Cristian Javier, Valdez and Odorizzi give the Astros six quality starters, assuming Odorizzi can right the ship after a rocky start.
That means Garcia is likely going to continue to be used in long relief or the occasional spot start, which is the role he’s served since he came up in 2020. He performed well last year, despite having not pitched above Class A ball, and is now an important part of Houston’s pitching plans going forward.