Christian Garcia hopes to repay Nationals’ faith, whether in bullpen or rotation

VIERA, Fla. — Kurt Suzuki had heard the scouting report. He’d been told what Christian Garcia threw, and what the 6-foot-5 right-hander had to work with. But the moment Garcia stood on the mound in September and threw a 97 mph sinking fastball to Suzuki for the first time, the catcher had two immediate thoughts.

The first was: “How have I never heard of this guy?” That was followed quickly by “How could the Yankees let him go?”

“He’s friggin’ nasty,” Suzuki said of the man with “stuff” so good manager Davey Johnson compared it to Stephen Strasburg’s last week. “His change-up is his swing-and-miss pitch, and so is his curveball. You think, ‘How has this guy not been in the big leagues?’”

Unfortunately for Garcia, his medical records do most of the talking in answering that question. Two Tommy John surgeries, four years apart. Another procedure to shave down a bone spur. Years of a promising career lost in an abyss of doctor appointments and rehab programs.

How he’s found himself as one of the most intriguing players in a Nationals camp largely devoid of competition for the 25-man roster is a tribute to Garcia’s willingness to continually pick himself up and carry on when his body betrays him. It’s a testament to how he took stock of his own work ethic when the Yankees released him and revamped the way he went about his business, shutting out the noise when people questioned what a 26-year-old was doing pitching in short-season Single-A as he made his way back.

“I looked at myself and said, ‘Am I doing everything possible to be the best player I can be?’” Garcia said. “I was honest with myself and said, ‘No way.’ From then on, if I had a spare minute it wasn’t going to be used to mess around, it’d be to do something to better myself.”

But it’s also a tribute to the Nationals, who courted Garcia for months after he was released in the midst of his second Tommy John rehab. They were the ones who invited him to Viera for a tryout in May 2011, and had the foresight to not only offer him a minor-league contract immediately after seeing him, but make it a two-year deal. They didn’t just want to take a chance on him; they wanted to invest in him.

“I had a couple other offers, but when it came down to signing they were the only team that was actually backing their offer and wanted to go all the way with it,” Garcia said, explaining a frustrating process in which teams would make him an offer before sending him for an MRI, and then renege once they saw the inner workings of his elbow.

Dr. David Altchek, who performed Garcia’s most recent elbow reconstruction in 2010, warned him that might happen. “It’s going to look like a bomb exploded in there,” Altchek told Garcia, due to all of the work that had been done over the years. The reactions seemed to indicate as much.

“I was feeling great and every team kept telling me ‘no,’ saying, ‘He’s got too much bad history,’” Garcia said.

That was not the way the Nationals viewed it, instead seeing the upside. And Garcia made them look smarter than a lot of teams as he put together a terrific season closing in the minor leagues in 2012.

He made such a strong impression in his September call-up that Johnson had no problem adding him to the team’s playoff roster. Now the plan is to stretch him back out into a starter this spring and evaluate their needs when they’re forced to make a decision.

Considering Garcia’s three quality pitches and the more set routine starting would provide, Johnson feels it’s the proper course. They know they need to keep tabs on Garcia’s innings and workload either way, and they can always return him to the bullpen.

“This will be an important spring to see which way he’s going to go,” Johnson said, understanding that Garcia saw himself reach the major leagues as a reliever and knowing it’s part of why he wants to remain one. “I’ve got an open mind. I’m not locked in on him [starting] because he’d be invaluable either way.”

General manager Mike Rizzo said Monday that if they feel Garcia is best utilized as rotation depth, that’s the role he’ll fill. If he’d be a better asset in the bullpen, so be it.

“If it’s in the big leagues, I’ll do whatever they want,” Garcia said. “I understand where they’re coming from [in wanting me to start]. Do I think I could do it? I think I could do it, and I think I could do it successfully. But do I want to go to the minor leagues and do it? I don’t think any player would ever say they want to do that.

“My mindset is set on playing in the big leagues and helping this team. On winning a World Series and, hopefully, being a part of it,” he added, perhaps reflecting on how he got here at age 27 and the “Plan B” he seems to have narrowly avoided a few times. Then he smiled.

“If I can still put a uniform on, then I’m a happy man,” he said.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Comments
blog comments powered by Disqus
Get Adobe Flash player
You Might Also Like
  • Argentina's Maxi Rodriguez, left, celebrates with goalkeeper Sergio Romero after scoring the decisive goal during the World Cup semifinal soccer match between the Netherlands and Argentina at the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Wednesday, July 9, 2014. Argentina beat the Netherlands 4-2 in a penalty shootout to reach the World Cup final. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

    Argentina beats Dutch in shootout to reach World Cup final

  • Washington Redskins safety Tanard Jackson speaks during a media availability after an NFL football training camp practice at Redskins Park, Friday, Aug. 3, 2012 in Ashburn, Va. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

    Tanard Jackson suspended indefinitely by NFL — again

  • Washington Wizards forward Otto Porter Jr. (22) looks to pass in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat, Monday, April 14, 2014, in Washington. The Wizards won 114-93. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

    Wizards’ Otto Porter, Glen Rice Jr. hoping for big splash on small stage

  • Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) is surrounded by fans that rushed the field and security as he is escorted off the field following their 45-38 win over Oklahoma in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

    SNYDER: RG3 worth his weight in bronze to Baylor

  • Baltimore Orioles' Manny Machado (13), celebrates his two-run homer with Adam Jones left, with Nick Markakis, at right, during the 11th inning of an interleague baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Monday, July 7, 2014, in Washington. The Orioles won 8-2, in 11 innings. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

    Accidental rivalry: Nats-Orioles doesn’t have much edge

  • Celebrities In The News
  • (Image from DeAngelo Williams' Facebook post)

    NFL star likely fooled by Marine impostor who accepted first-class plane ticket

  • ** FILE ** In this Oct. 1, 2013, file photo actor George Clooney attends the premiere of "Gravity" at the AMC Lincoln Square Theaters, in New York. George Clooney has chastised a British newspaper over an article claiming his fiancee's mother disapproves of the impending marriage for religious reasons. Clooney said that the claims about his future mother-in-law Baria Alamuddin were untrue and irresponsible. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

    Website apologizes for Clooney mother-in-law story

  • Kim Kardashian arrives at the NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment 2014 Upfront at the Javits Center on Thursday, May 15, 2014, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

    Kim Kardashian visits Jersey shore