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Garcia hoping splitter opens door to 'pen spot

MLB.com @ToddZolecki

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Maybe Luis Garcia can be this spring's Hector Neris.

Neris entered last spring as arguably a long shot to make the Phillies' bullpen, but he made the team at the very end because he showed tremendous promise with a recently introduced splitter. Six months later, Neris had the best season of anybody in the bullpen.

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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Maybe Luis Garcia can be this spring's Hector Neris.

Neris entered last spring as arguably a long shot to make the Phillies' bullpen, but he made the team at the very end because he showed tremendous promise with a recently introduced splitter. Six months later, Neris had the best season of anybody in the bullpen.

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Garcia enters this spring on the bubble -- not to make the Opening Day roster, but to remain in the organization. Despite the fact he has a fastball that averaged 95.6 mph last season and a nearly unhittable slider -- opponents hit .042 (1-for-24) against it, according to Statcast™ -- he has been maddeningly inconsistent in the big leagues. The 30-year-old posted a 6.46 ERA in 17 appearances last season.

It is why Garcia could become a 40-man-roster casualty if the Phillies add a non-roster invitee or two to the team.

But perhaps Garcia can save himself. He struck out one in 1 2/3 scoreless innings Friday in a 5-0 loss to the Yankees at Spectrum Field. He threw his slider only once. He threw a bunch of splitters, though.

"Hector always wanted me to throw it, so I'm throwing it," said Garcia, who started throwing the splitter in winter ball in the Dominican. "It feels good."

"He might have reinvented himself," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "If he can command that pitch pretty well he could be very effective. I was encouraged by that."

But Garcia needs more than the splitter. He also needs to relax on the mound. Former Phillies closer Brad Lidge praised Garcia last month, when he was in camp as a guest instructor. He said Garcia had "wipeout closer stuff."

Told that Garcia has frustrated the Phillies because his talents haven't translated to success on the mound, Lidge said, "As soon as he learns to breathe out there, takes deep breaths between pitches, calms himself down … it's a hard thing to do when there's a runner on second base in a tie game. As soon as you can develop some comfort, he'll be able to revert back to that great stuff and attack hitters."

Garcia is working on that. He got hit hard his first two spring appearances, allowing five runs in two innings, but he has not allowed a run in his last three appearances.

"I thought too much," Garcia said. "I thought about my mechanics and how I wanted to do good. Now I'm trying just to make pitches. I'm not thinking about anything. It's not easy, but I'm doing some breathing exercises before every pitch. It's been working so far."

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

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