The talk of turning 27-year-old right-hander Christian Garcia back into a starter began, at least publicly, as part of a conversation about Michael Morse, when Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson brought the idea up in a meandering twenty-one minute talk with reporters before the finale of a four-game set with the Milwaukee Brewers on September 24th in Nationals Park. The 69-year-old Nats' skipper, whose team had lost six of their last ten overall and two of the first three with the Brewers at that point, was calm when he talked in the day's pregame press conference about how hard it is to get players to tell the truth about injuries they're dealing with since they all want to remain in the lineup.
"Nice fall day," Johnson said as he sat down.
Morse had complained about his wrist after telling the manager he was good to go the previous day. "I asked [Morse] during the game how he was feeling," Johnson explained, "He said he was fine, because... I think it was in the 5th inning, when I went to [Craig] Stammen, [Morse] made the last out and if he was under the weather I was going to double switch right there. And he said he was fine so he either was lying to me or it acted up later."
Once Morse saw a doctor, Johnson said, they would know the extent of the injury.
"How much of a challenge is it to get players to tell you the truth?" a reporter asked the veteran of 13 MLB seasons as a player and 16 as a manager. "Well, I mean, there's no sense being a hero," Johnson said, "But a lot of guys aren't going to tell you, but I'm going to still ask if they have something that appears to be bothering them. But, you know, when they complain after the game... It's like [Christian] Garcia had a little fatigue in his bicep after the ninth inning stint..."
In the one rough regular season outing Garcia had at the major league level this year, the right-hander gave up three hits, one a home run and two runs total early in the series with Milwaukee, throwing 25 pitches in a long ninth inning of work as he closed out a blowout win. After the game, the rookie reliever admitted he had some soreness, but it wasn't something Davey Johnson seemed particularly worried about. "That's just normal," Johnson said of the bicep issue, "Maybe a little tired. Maybe from the number of pitches he threw. After he gave up the home run, he kind of amped it up. I think he was kind of just out there on cruise control until that home run. And then he turned it up probably a little higher and that probably fatigued him."
Garcia, an '04 New York Yankees' 3rd Round pick out of high school in Coral Gables, Florida, who was signed as a free agent by Washington in July of 2011, pitched at two levels of the Nats' system before making his MLB debut in 2012 after eight seasons, two Tommy John surgeries, three elbow surgeries total, 124 appearances, 56 starts and 369.0 IP in the minors. The right-hander started the year at Double-A Harrisburg where he was (1-0) with seven saves, a 1.80 ERA, 1.30 FIP, six walks (2.70 K/9) and 28 Ks (12.60 K/9) in 18 games and 20.0 IP.
At Triple-A Syracuse, Garcia had 14 saves a 0.56 ERA, 1.87 FIP, 11 walks (3.06 BB/9) and 38 Ks (10.58 K/9) before he was called up to Washington where he quickly became one of Davey Johnson's favorites, posting a 2.13 ERA and 3.73 FIP with two walks (1.42 BB/9) and 15 Ks (10.66 K/9) in 13 G and 12.2 IP. "He's been very impressive," Johnson said before the regular season ended, "He was out... he had the three operations between '06 and '09. High draft pick. I actually talked to [Pitching Coach Steve] McCatty and I like the idea of maybe even starting him."
"You can get a better base on the arm," as a starter, Johnson explained, "He's got three pitches like a starter would have. Good changeup, good curve ball, good hard fastball. So he would be a candidate, for me, to start next year. And that's one area where our depth is a little less."
"You can always go from starting and having that regular work which is also really good for building up arm endurance," the Nats' manager continued, "and then go from that into a relief role. But it's very hard once you start the season as a reliever. I think he's real comfortable because he's in the major leagues as a reliever and probably wouldn't want to think about starting right now, but come next Spring it might be a good way to ensure the health of his arm. Relieving is a little more irregular, but with an arm like he's got, starting might be a good option."
Johnson told reporters that he felt Garcia was essentially wasted as a one-inning reliever. He'd done his homework on the right-hander and even looked into the three surgeries Garcia had when considering the potential move to see if there was any reason to avoid doing what he planned. He also had the Nats' pitching coach talk to the pitcher about the idea of moving him back to a starting role. "I had 'Cat' talk to him," Johnson said, "He said, 'Well, I actually like the pen.' Yeah, because you're up here in the pen in the big leagues. Correct answer."
Garcia was slated for a run in the AFL before he was brought up to D.C. late in 2012. With the innings he added late in the season and postseason the Nationals decided he would be done for the year and ready to go at the start of Spring Training. Washington Times' writer Amanda Comak wrote Wednesday that both Garcia and fellow converted-reliever Ryan Perry were considered part of the starting pitching depth in the organization right now, noting that the Nats, "... are still planning to convert Christian Garcia into a starter this spring."
The Nationals have been open about wanting/needing a fifth starter this winter, but they also need some depth in the organization. With Tom Milone and Brad Peacock traded last winter, John Lannan a candidate for a non-tender this winter and Edwin Jackson expected sign elsewhere, it is one area where they're lacking depth as Davey Johnson noted. Christian Garcia may provide one unexpected option for Washington in 2013.