Thursday, August 20, 2015

Random Ex-Brave: Freddy Garcia

His career with the Braves lasted just 27.1 regular season innings, but Freddy Garcia humorously became a part of Braves lore by uttering a simple statement. "I just make pitch." Yes, Freddy, that you do.

Stephen Dunn | Getty Images
Garcia originally arrived in the majors in 1999 for a Seattle pitching staff that was still looking for answers in the post-Randy Johnson world. Speaking of the Big Unit, that's how Garcia joined the Mariners after being an Astros prospect. In his rookie year, he threw his first of a dozen career complete games on August 7, but took the loss. 17 days later, he toyed with a Detroit team that would lose 92 games that year, shutting them down for his first of four career shutouts while striking out 12. He needed 139 pitches to do it and the game was a career best for him in terms of Game Score (89) and set what would be his career high for strikeouts in one game (matched three years later against the Rangers).

Limited to just 21 games in 2000, the 24 year-old Garcia had his finest single season the following year. He paced the American League in ERA and innings while picking up a trio of shutouts. He was even better in the second half, increasing his strikeout numbers while walking fewer as the Mariners won 116 games. Garcia was an All-Star that season and in 2002, though his numbers aren't nearly as good. With the Mariners slumping two years later, they sent the righty to the White Sox for a trio of players, including Mike Morse. He stuck with the White Sox for two more seasons and pitched his final 200 inning campaign in 2006 - the 7th time in 8 years he had accomplished the feat. His highlight in the South Side came on October 26, 2005. With the White Sox leading the Astros 3-0 in the World Series, Garcia faced Brandon Backe. Yeah, pitching wasn't all that good back then. Each pitcher went seven scoreless innings with seven K's before the Astros went with Brad Lidge in the 8th. Willie Harris hit for Garcia and singled. Two outs, another former Brave, Jermaine Dye drove him in with a single. When Bobby Jenks induced a groundout from Orlando Palmeiro, Garcia was credited with a win in his only World Series game - a deciding one at that.

It might be tempting to read ERAs like 4.51 in his final year with the M's and 4.53 with the White Sox in 2006 and think that Garcia wasn't a solid middle-of-the-rotation arm, but over six years where he logged 200 innings or more (2001-06), Garcia averaged 3.7 fWAR. He was a good performer - often underrated as a result of never being overpowering. He was a bit better than Russ Ortiz or essentially a pitcher that's good, but looks even better on a great team.

But Garcia would struggle badly in 2007-10. Dealt by the White Sox to the Phils for Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez (ouch) because his former GM, Pat Gillick, still liked him, Garcia couldn't stay healthy for the Phils in 2007. He finished the year with 58 innings over eleven starts. Despite pitching for a team that finished 16 games over .500, the Phillies were just 5-6 with Garcia on the mound. He reached free agency for the first time and nobody came calling to his liking. It wasn't until August 12 of 2009 that he finally got signed - by the Tigers. He made three starts in September and got beat around a little. After the year, he signed with the Mets, but failed to make their 2009 squad and was cut before the season.

A few months later, the White Sox brought him back and he would start nine games with them, showing improved control. That bought him a return trip in 2010 and he made 28 starts, though all of his numbers suffered and despite a nine-start run the previous year being worth 1.5 fWAR, he managed just 1.4 in three times as many starts in 2010.

Still, Garcia was now a guy who provided veteran "presents" and a team looking for depth could use that. Right before pitchers and catchers were scheduled to report to camp in 2011, the Yankees added Garcia. Along with Bartolo Colon, the two righties helped to stabilize the staff while youngins' Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes matured. Garcia posted the second lowest ERA of his career at 3.62 and appeared in his first game out of the pen since 2011. The Yankees resigned Garcia for the following year, but he couldn't stay in the rotation this time and suffered through a 5.20 ERA in a shade over a hundred innings.

2013 would be an interesting year for Garcia. He signed with the Padres, but couldn't earn a spot on a rotation that sported the likes of Eric Stults, Edinson Volquez, Jason Marquis and Clayton Richard. Instead, he was cut and picked up by the Orioles. It would be his first extended stint in the minors since 1998. Over 13 starts, he did his job to the tune of a 2.84 ERA. He also saw time with the major league club, though the results were ugly (5.77 ERA, 6.73 FIP, 2.7 HR/9). By late August, he was back in AAA and probably looking at a possible recall to the majors in September for blow-out game duty only, but luckily for him, the Braves were desperate.

Atlanta had seen Tim Hudson go down in a heap in Shea Stadium and Paul Maholm was working his way back from his own injury. Atlanta was looking for adding support in case Alex Wood, who was in his first full professional season, faltered. Enter Garcia, who started one game for Gwinnett after the Braves "purchased him" before joining the influx of players once rosters expanded for September. He appeared in three games out of the bullpen with his first outing lasting 4.2 scoreless in relief of Wood, who had surrendered seven runs to the Marlins. The Braves ultimately flip-flopped Wood and Garcia with the latter joining the staff for three starts between September 12-24. The Braves won two of them and Garcia pitched well enough to win the one that Atlanta lose (7 ING, 1 R to the Nats).

The Braves chose Garcia as the fourth starter over Maholm and prepared for the NLDS. Atlanta would split a pair of games at home before heading to LA and getting smacked around 13-6 in Game 3. With a win-or-go home game tabbed for Monday, October 7, the Braves saw the Dodgers go with Clayton Kershaw on short rest while Garcia took the ball for the Braves. Kershaw, who graduated high school the same year of Garcia's final 200 inning campaign, was a tough task even on short rest, but Garcia wasn't worried. He told David O'Brien, "I don't panic. I just make pitch." It was a stupid rallying cry, but it gave us hope. Maybe he could just pitch and get this series back to Atlanta.

His fifth pitch to Dodgers leadoff batter Carl Crawford was a homer. His sixth pitch to Crawford in the third was also a homer. But the Braves bounced back in the 4th. A single, an error, and a wild pitch set up Chris Johnson, who singled in a run. A groundout led to a game-tying run and Garcia was back even with the Dodgers' ace. He was pinch-hit for in the seventh with Elliot Johnson on third after a triple. Jose Constanza rocketed a 2-1 pitch up the middle for an RBI. Suddenly, Garcia was the pitcher of record. Just need nine more outs.

But had the Braves done that, we would have never seen dejected Craig Kimbrel with his arms crossed. So, I guess that's something. After Juan Uribe broke David Carpenter and the Braves lost, Atlanta was still impressed enough to bring back Garcia to compete for a starting spot. Injuries seemed to help his chances, but the signing of Ervin Santana and surprising pitching of David Hale led the Braves to cut Garcia. He would not pitch again until the winter leagues. He was a late spring pick-up by the Dodgers heading into 2015, but lasted a month before being cut from their AAA roster. Since June, he's pitched in the Mexican League.

Garcia has slightly more than 2,250 innings in the major leagues and been a part of some good teams. He rarely impressed so much that fans of other teams wanted him on their team, but - especially before 2007 - he often pitched well enough that his own team's fans were pretty confident they had a good chance to win after Garcia took the mound. Now 38, Garcia may try to stick around through next spring and hope he gets an opportunity to make a roster. Hey, if his old teammate Colon can still do it, why not Garcia?

More Random Ex-Braves
John Thomson
Kent Mercker
George Lombard

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