Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson has talked since the end of the 2012 campaign about how much he likes Christian Garcia's stuff and the Nats are following through on their plan to stretch the 27-year-old right-hander out this Spring as they decide where he fits best in 2013.
Davey Johnson talked Sunday about watching different pitchers throw, and being impressed with Gio Gonzalez and Cole Kimball and he said he got an early report on one of the other hard-throwing right-handers in camp in Viera, Florida with the defending NL East Champs. "We also got a good report on Christian Garcia," the Washington Nationals' manager told reporters, "Said he threw the [BLEEP] out of the ball." When the Nats' skipper talked about the 27-year-old, former New York Yankees' right-hander last week after watching one of Garcia's early bullpen sessions this Spring, he compared the '04 3rd Round pick's stuff to Stephen Strasburg's:
Remember this name: Christian Garcia. Davey Johnson says his stuff is almost Strasburg-level. Could be a starter, 13 relief outings in 2012.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) February 14, 2013
Garcia started the 2012 campaign at Double-A Harrisburg, posting a 1.80 ERA, 1.30 FIP, six walks and 28 Ks in 18 games and 20.0 IP. Then it was Triple-A Syracuse, where the righty saved 14 games while putting up a 0.56 ERA, a 1.87 FIP, 11 walks (3.06 BB/9) and 38 Ks (10.58 K/9) in 32.1 IP. The final stop of Garcia's second season in the Nationals' system was the Nats' bullpen, where he had a 2.13 ERA, a 3.73 FIP, two walks (1.42 BB/9) and 15 Ks (10.66 K/9) in 13 games and 12.2 IP after he was called up to make his MLB debut in September.
"For me, he has three quality pitches, he has starter stuff," Davey Johnson told reporters last week as he once again explained the plan to stretch Garcia out this Spring, even though he may end up remaining in the bullpen. "And that's where we have a little shortfall" Johnson said, referring to the rotation, "And I talked to him, I said, 'Really, I know you can pitch out of the pen, but you have such a great upside,' and I told him, I said, 'Christian, I would, with your stuff, even this Spring, I would stretch you out to at least three or four innings with your stuff. Even if you went back in the pen.' I explained it to him, but I said, 'I want you to go nice and easy. I don't want you to try to do anything special. You can think of yourself however you want, but you could, really, if you could get comfortable starting, that would be great.'"
"He's got great stuff," Johnson continued, "I would like to see more of him rather than just one inning. But on his side, just going out there and throwing one inning got him to the big leagues, so I can understand where he's coming from too."
"I tell you, his curve ball is great," Johnson said, when asked how Garcia's stuff compared to the Nats' '09 no.1 overall pick's arsenal. "If I was to grade his stuff, I'd have to have him real close stuff-wise," the Nats' 70-year-old manager said, "Fastball? Great movement, mid-90's, pitches mid-90's. He threw some 97 mph sinkers last year that were unhittable. Threw some of the best changeups. As good as Stras. Stras is harder, [but] when he keeps it down, it's unhittable. [Garcia's] curve ball might even be better than [Strasburg's]. I mean, it's like that, it's a knuckle-curve. But his stuff, when I look at guys' stuff. Starters go to the pen, it's usually not the other way around. He's just got a great arm."
Christian Garcia has, of course, already had Tommy John surgery twice and he had a separate elbow surgery too on that arm, but the Nats' manager said he proved last year that he was back to 100%. "In [Garcia's] case," Johnson said, "a lot of the Tommy John surgeries have been very successful. And he's proven that his was successful by the work he did last year. His delivery is so solid... this will be a big Spring to see which way he's going to go. I've got an open mind, I'm not locked in on him, cause he'd be invaluable either way."
Nats' GM Mike Rizzo too talked about the decision to stretch Garcia out in a conversation with reporters on Monday afternoon, though he said there wouldn't be any decision on where he ends up until the end of Spring Training. "We're going to see where we're at at the end of Spring," Rizzo said, "And see what the rotation looks like, what the bullpen looks like and, we know he can do both, and that's an important thing and our thought process is it's easier to take a starter, close him up into being a short reliever, than it is to take a short reliever and stretch him out to be a starter."
The decision, the Nationals' general manager explained, on whether Garcia starts in Syracuse or stays in the nation's capital, will depend on what the Nationals need. "We're going to factor [in] where we're at when we break camp," Rizzo said, "where we're going to be at and where our needs are and what do the numbers look like in the bullpen, what do the numbers look like in the rotation and we'll make our decision based on that."