'Best for the job,' Garcia earns Game 6 nod

November 2nd, 2021

HOUSTON -- Astros manager Dusty Baker summed up his vantage point from the visitors' dugout succinctly on Sunday night as he made each pitching change during Game 5 of the World Series at Truist Park.

“When you're down 3-1, you've just got to kind of pull out all the stops,” Baker said.

With that in mind, Baker got the job done, using a sturdy line of relievers -- and one starter in relief -- to help his club stave off elimination against the Braves to send the Series back to Houston for Game 6 on Tuesday night.

Now he’s faced with creating a pitching plan for another elimination game. But the Astros would certainly rather be in this situation than the alternative they faced if they hadn’t won Sunday, which would be heading back to Houston to pack up the clubhouse instead of preparing for another game.

“We still have work to do,” Baker said. “You want to go out there [to Atlanta] and win three and win there. And then when it didn’t happen … you change your rally cry to, 'We just want to go back home.' And now our whole thing is, 'Win Game 1,' which is Game 6, and then put us in a position to win Game 7.”

To do that, the Astros are turning to rookie right-hander to start Game 6 on short rest at Minute Maid Park. José Urquidy was the projected Game 6 starter, but Baker needed to use the right-hander on Sunday night for an inning of relief. Urquidy threw just 14 pitches, so perhaps he could help out on Tuesday if things go awry quickly, but Baker said he would “rather not” use Urquidy, potentially saving him for Game 7 if the Series goes there.

Garcia will start on just three days’ rest for the first time in his career. He threw 72 pitches -- his second-highest total this postseason -- over 3 2/3 innings in Game 3 on Friday night, taking the loss after yielding three hits, four walks and one run in the Astros’ 2-0 defeat.

“Nothing has changed,” Garcia said Monday about his routine on short rest. “I just want to do my thing and be prepared for tomorrow.”

Garcia has had an up-and-down postseason, showing signs of strength and signs of weakness. He helped the Astros clinch the American League Championship Series on Oct. 22 by holding the Red Sox scoreless through 5 2/3 innings. But he also had two short starts earlier in October, allowing five runs in 2 2/3 innings in the AL Division Series against the White Sox and five runs in one inning in Game 2 of the ALCS. The 24-year-old has been a stable part of the Astros' rotation this year, posting a 3.30 ERA across 30 games (28 starts) and 155 1/3 innings in the regular season.

One thing this postseason has given Garcia, though, is experience. And with experience comes confidence.

“When [the postseason] started, I was kind of nervous, but now I have confidence in myself and what I can do,” Garcia said. “I feel better now, compared to the beginning. I feel really good.

“... I have to make my pitches. That’s what I need to do. Whatever happens, happens, but I’m going to try and get outs and do my best.”

The postseason has seen success stories with starters coming back on limited rest, and it has seen failures. The trend in recent postseasons hasn’t been terribly positive, with some starters running out of gas. The Astros aren’t going to push Garcia too far out of his comfort zone. Unless he’s incredibly efficient, it’s hard to foresee him facing the Braves' lineup a third -- or even a second -- time.

Houston will piece the pitching together from there, and Monday’s off-day certainly helps the bullpen, allowing Baker to again pull out all the stops on Tuesday.

On a Monday Zoom call with reporters, Baker went through all his well-rested and semi-rested relievers who could appear behind Garcia -- pretty much everyone except Kendall Graveman, who threw 37 pitches over two innings on Sunday.

Graveman’s outing allowed the Astros to win without using closer Ryan Pressly, who threw 33 pitches over 1 2/3 innings in Game 4. With two days of rest heading into Game 6, he should be refreshed.

Cristian Javier and Jake Odorizzi are in the category of “well-rested,” according to Baker, and both will likely be needed behind Garcia on Tuesday. Like Game 5, Game 6 is going to take creativity and an entire pitching staff ready to help.

Garcia can set the tone from the first pitch.

“We think he’s the best for the job,” Baker said. “We realize that he has a short leash, but then everybody out there has a short leash and is operating on low rest or not full rest.”