Freddy Garcia came into this season as an insurance policy. Signed for $4M, he was merely on the Yankees roster to provide innings in 2012 before the Offseason of the Free Agent Pitcher began. Then his role changed when the Yankees brought on Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda. Manager Joe Girardi called for a competition with the loser relegated to the bullpen. Even worse for Garcia, in March, Andy Pettitte decided to don the pinstripes for one more go around, but it’d take him another month and a half into the regular season before he could pitch at the major league level. It wasn’t long before many people where calling for Garcia’s release, citing “the Yankees had too much pitching” as the main reason.
Well, a season-ending, and potentially career-altering injury to Pineda, and Pettitte’s need for seasoning in the minors before his inevitable return to the Bronx, the Yankees needed Garcia for April. Yet, he pitched as badly as one could. In fact, hitters (.403/.449/.710) were absolutely teeing off on him and it seemed all was lost for The Chief. I was in attendance for the greatest comeback in Yankees history when they were down 9-1 to the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. That day Garcia’s pitches, much like his previous start, just looked flat and when you’re a junkballer with no real oomph behind your fastball, movement and location are all you have, neither of which were agreeing with him that month.
In four starts in April he recorded a 12.51 ERA (4.16 xFIP) in 13.2 innings, not the best sample size, but many (included myself) were asking the front office to move on without him. Girardi threw him in the bullpen as the long man and used him sparingly. In May and June, Garcia only appeared in 10 games and pitched 17.1 innings, but something changed. He started pitching well in mop-up duty, but even more importantly, he was excelling. I nominate the game against the Washington Nationals on June 16 as when Garcia got his groove back.
He threw two scoreless innings with two strikeouts, in a very high leverage situation (2.65 leverage index that day, where 1.00 is average). He was throwing strikes (18 of his 24 pitches) and his pitches seem to have more bite than usual. Girardi decided to continue using him in mop-up roles the next few times. It wasn’t until both CC Sabathia and Pettitte were injured that the Yankees saw their pitching depth disappear and the need for the Venezuelan right hander.
His first start since April came against division rivals Tampa Bay Rays where he pitched 5.1 innings giving up two runs in a 3-2 loss. He was on a pitch count and only threw 74 pitches that day, 46 of which were strikes. However, he did exactly what the team wanted/needed him to do, keep them in the game. In his next start he went back to Fenway Park for a little revenge and pitched a marvelous game, his best of the season thus far. He pitched 6.2 innings, gave up six hits, one run and struck out five while only surrendering one walk in a 6-1 win. It was his first win as a starter since last season.
In his latest start against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (is there a more obnoxious name in sports?), he didn’t pitch as well, but he battled toward a win (thanks to the Yankee hitters and bullpen), after giving up three runs on five hits and five walks (!) in five innings. It’s a theme for Garcia; keep us in games and your job is somewhat safe.
We shouldn’t anoint Garcia as a savior of the 2012 season by any stretch of the imagination, but we should at least give him props for turning his season around and being there when the Yankees needed him most. Believe it or not, from a pitching standpoint, he’s a big reason the Yankees have continued to pad their lead in the AL East even after Sabathia and Pettitte went down with injuries. He could have just as easily pitched like he did in April and really handcuff the Yankees into making some rash and bold moves.
His re-emergence onto the scene has given the front office more time to look for outside help, if they choose to go that route. Rather than looking desperate to other clubs, the Yankees now appear to be fine, which will present itself in trade talks. General Manager, Brian Cashman, won’t have to give up the farm for a Matt Garza, or a Ryan Dempster because the Yankees are not as desperate for pitching at this point. With the non-waiver trade deadline coming up and the Yankees holding an eight-game lead over the Baltimore Orioles, they can afford to stand pat and add minor pieces to solidify themselves for the playoff run.
Garcia is pitching with confidence even while walking on eggshells and with a fan base waiting for him to fail to justify their feelings toward him. He’s proving to them that he still has something left in the tank and he won’t be disgruntled no matter which role he’s given. Luckily, he’s pitched his best when the Yankees needed him most.
With that, will the Yankees re-sign him in the offseason or will they move on and allow the youngsters to take over? The floor is yours…