Freddy Garcia’s last start was one of the lowest points of his career. After throwing only 1 2/3 innings against the Red Sox in his previous outing, the right hander gave an unwelcomed encore against the Tigers on April 28, once again departing before the end of the second inning. As Garcia walked off the Yankee Stadium mound to a chorus of boos, many wondered whether it would be the last time he’d ever wear pinstripes. Garcia may have thought so too. Two months later, however, he is finally getting the chance to redeem himself.
When Andy Pettitte’s singing was announced during the spring, Garcia wasn’t exactly the happiest camper. During the offseason, the veteran had signed with the Yankees fully expecting to be one of the team’s starting pitchers. Subsequent acquisitions of Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda had already created a crowded rotation, and now the return of Pettitte further threatened to make Garcia the odd man out. Pineda’s season ending shoulder surgery gave Garcia at least a temporary reprieve, but the righty struggled out of the gate, and once again had to contend with the specter of Pettitte. Was he looking over his shoulder? Perhaps not at first, but with each poor outing, the sound of Pettitte’s footsteps must have been deafening.
Instead of making a hasty decision with Garcia, the Yankees sent the veteran to the bullpen, where, over 10 games and 17 1/3 innings, the right hander posted a 1.56 ERA. Even more importantly, he also regained the lost velocity that had made him so vulnerable at the start of the season and began to generate more swings and misses with his off-speed pitches. As a result, Garcia re-established himself as a viable member of the Yankees’ staff and a ready reinforcement in case of injury. Now, with Pettitte expected to miss at least six weeks, the Yankees have to hope he can carry his progress into the rotation.
Garcia’s first tests won’t be easy as the veteran’s return to the rotation comes just as the Yankees resume playing the American League East. After tonight’s game against the Rays, Garcia will next face the Red Sox and Blue Jays, who have scored the second and third most runs per game, respectively, in the American League. Not only could Garcia’s performance over the next couple of weeks play a significant role in determining how tight the A.L. East pennant race will become, but also whether the Yankees need to seriously consider making a big splash at the trade deadline. Granted, the availability of a pitcher like Cole Hamels would likely peak the Yankees’ interest regardless of Garcia’s performance, but if he can hold down the fort until Pettitte’s return, Brian Cashman would be in a better position to negotiate a deal.
Just like in April, Garcia once again has a temporary spot in the rotation contingent upon both his performance and the status of Andy Pettitte. However, this time around, the footsteps might not be as loud. Although his situation at the beginning of the season was probably a source of frustration, Garcia should now be content just to have a second chance. It’s a long way since April. Starting tonight, the Yankees will find out just how far Garcia has come.