Bryan Garcia ended his rookie season in the role he had dreamed about since turning pro: a Major League closer getting big outs. The Tigers right-hander also had a better record stranding inherited baserunners than any other MLB reliever -- a perfect 11-for-11, including bases-loaded jams on back-to-back nights in Milwaukee on Sept. 1 and 2.
“That adrenaline rush is the same as if you're throwing the ninth inning in a one-run ballgame,” Garcia said on a Monday afternoon video call with reporters.
Now comes the challenge of building off that, whether or not he’s the Tigers’ closer again. To do that, Garcia will probably go back to his roots.
Garcia built his resume in college as the University of Miami’s career saves leader, earning the Tigers’ nod as their sixth-round pick in the 2016 MLB Draft. When Detroit went the college route for its new pitching coach, hiring Chris Fetter from the University of Michigan, it caught Garcia’s attention.
While Garcia has yet to talk to new manager A.J. Hinch, he has talked with Fetter.
“He seems awesome,” Garcia said. “I'm very excited to work with him and get to know his philosophy and see what he has for me, and it's going to help me improve. He seems very excited and ready to get to work and see how he can help all of us improve and just simply get better. And I think he's going to be able to.
“The Tigers in general have been kind of making that move to being a little bit more analytical and stuff, and I think he's going to be that final piece, hopefully, to make it easier for us to understand what it is that's going to make us successful.”
Garcia’s success in 2020 centered on his combination of a sinking fastball and offspeed pitches -- sliders against right-handed batters, changeups against lefties -- as well as a midseason adjustment from former pitching coach Rick Anderson. While Garcia's ground-ball rate reversed from 2019 to '20, with more fly balls than grounders, his exit velocity improved as the season went on, avoiding barrels more than missing bats. His slider improved after the adjustment and became the putaway pitch he’d been seeking, even as his use of it decreased.
“As a reliever, they're looking for that one pitch to drive, so every single pitch has got to be a putaway pitch almost,” Garcia said.
In 10 save situations, Garcia allowed three runs (one earned) on nine hits in 8 1/3 innings this past season, striking out six and walking two. He eventually settled into the closer’s role following the struggles of Joe Jiménez.
“At the beginning of the season, the first 30 games or so, I felt like I was getting outs but getting away with stuff that I shouldn't be getting away with,” Garcia said. “But toward the end of the season, the last three, four weeks, I kind of found something. The way I pitched those last three or four weeks is the way I want to pitch for a full season, so I want to make sure that I can consistently be like that.”
In the process, Garcia said, he proved to himself that he belongs in the Majors. As he looks ahead to 2021, his goal is simple: lock up a spot in Hinch’s bullpen, whatever the role. Considering Hinch talked a couple weeks ago about less focus on setting pitchers for certain innings, it’s arguably the right approach.
“The guy has won a World Series,” Garcia said. “Yeah, he's got a little baggage, people would say, but I've only heard good things from people around baseball about him, specifically. So I'm very excited to see what he can do.”
Garcia is also excited to hear Fetter’s ideas on pitch design.
“I do know my slider needs some work to create just a little bit more movement,” Garcia said, “but I think my changeup is pretty much where I want it. With the fastball, it's just going to be, does he think my fastball is going to help me be successful in the long run, or is there a tweak that we can make? But I'm open to anything he sees fit for me.”