NEW YORK — Maybe it was the two Tommy John surgeries. Or the nine years Christian Garcia spent traversing the minor leagues, either developing or rehabbing. But the Washington Nationals right-hander’s major league career has lasted just more than a week, and pitching in a one-run game in the eighth inning of a pennant race doesn’t faze him.
Tuesday night, Garcia used the New York Mets as his latest canvas to show that it wasn’t talent denying him a major league career, only injury. He threw 1⅓ innings, sometimes overpowering, other times devastating, to prove that, in the words of Jordan Zimmermann, “He’s nasty.”
“He has an outstanding repertoire of stuff,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said of the former starter. “The sinker he threw [David Wright], they were raving about it on the mound. They said, ‘That big donkey’s got a better sinker than [Ryan Mattheus].’ I guess when you’re 6-foot-7 and throwing downhill, it might have a little sink to it.”
Garcia’s brief performance has been so impressive he could put pressure on the Nationals to consider including him on their postseason roster. Johnson brushed off the suggestion but didn’t totally dismiss it.
“It’s too early for that,” he said. “I’m not going there.”
But Garcia has weapons the Nationals could use in their already-solid bullpen. He possesses a mid-to-upper-90s fastball, a strong curveball and what coaches called a “plus-plus” change-up that he can throw to right-handers and left-handers with equally impressive effectiveness.
He doesn’t lack for confidence, either. When pitching coach Steve McCatty informed Garcia after a spotless seventh inning that he’d be going out to begin the eighth, Garcia looked him in the eye and told him, “Don’t worry, I got it.” McCatty nearly fainted.
“I said, ‘I’m going to give you 10 seconds to take that back,’” McCatty said, having flashbacks to the time he told then-Athletics manager Billy Martin the same thing, only to surrender three home runs the next half-inning.
” ‘Don’t ever tell me you’ve got it. Take it back right now. Tell me you’ll pound the zone. Tell me something else.’ He said, ‘OK, OK, I’ll pound the zone.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I don’t ever want to hear “I’ve got him.’ … You don’t challenge the baseball gods — but he’s very confident.”
Garcia has pitched in five games for the Nationals. Two have featured more than one inning, and all but one have been spotless efforts.
“If you ask me who I faced tonight, I know I faced big-league hitters,” he said. “That’s who I faced. I’m going to go in there and do what I can. I’m not going to change my approach for the guy who is standing in there. I’m going to go in there and go after him.”
The Nationals have plenty to get through before they can focus on their postseason roster. There’s the matter of clinching a playoff spot first. But if and when they do, Garcia’s name is almost certain to be in the conversation, which could make for a difficult decision.
“Without a doubt,” Garcia said. “It’s the kind of person I am. I like being in spots where there’s pressure. I tend to do better when those opportunities arise. … I want to show them what I have to offer and help the team any way I can.
“But that’s not something I can control, so I don’t really think about it. Any way I can get this team a scoreless inning is what I’m trying to do.”