Luis Garcia has been optioned to or recalled from the minors 22 times since August 2013, and it was the 21st transaction that prompted him to stop thinking about it. He was demoted to triple-A Lehigh Valley on April 30. He spent all of 11 days there.
“Before, I was thinking too much about that,” Garcia said. “The up and down, why I wasn’t here. Now?”
Now, Garcia is throwing the ball as well as, or better than, anyone else in the Phillies’ bullpen. Since an implosion June 7 in Atlanta, Garcia has allowed one run in 13 innings (a 0.69 ERA) with 13 strikeouts and five walks. He recorded five outs on 13 pitches in Tuesday’s loss to Pittsburgh.
He was not as sharp Wednesday. Garcia loaded the bases in the eigth inning with two walks and a single. He escaped thanks to a deft play by shortstop Freddy Galvis. He allowed another single in the ninth.
The Phillies have always been entranced by Garcia’s arm. He has the best fastball on the team’s staff. But he could not throw strikes. He would offer a moment of brilliance only to regress. He carried a career 4.24 ERA and a 13.8 percent walk rate into 2017.
He has a 2.70 ERA and a 9 percent walk rate over 33 1/3 innings this season.
“I’m just relaxed,” Garcia said. “That’s it.”
Confidence, combined with the kind of stuff contained in Garcia’s right arm, can change a player’s fate. No one will anoint Garcia as a shutdown reliever on the basis of one great month. It’s the adjustment in demeanor that has encouraged the Phillies.
“It’s such a dilemma to try to decide on whether a guy can stay here or not,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “Whether he’s good enough to pitch here. This is his third or fourth year — not to mention going up and down during the course of those years — where we weren’t sure if he’d ever get it. It seems like this year he’s starting to calm down. It looks like he’s more relaxed when he goes out there.
“The stuff is there. But it was always flip of the coin of what to expect.”
Garcia’s fastball, according to MLB’s Statcast, has averaged 96.9 mph this season. That ranks 21st among all relievers. He has featured his slider against righthanded batters and mixed in a splitter against lefties.
He will need a longer stretch of consistent results to solidify his bullpen spot. Garcia is 30 and he is out of options after this season. So this is a chance.
“We have a tendency to refer to those strong-armed relief pitchers as rock throwers,” Mackanin said. “Will they ever become pitchers? It looks like he’s on the way to becoming a pretty good pitcher.”
Jerad Eickhoff is slated to start Sunday’s first-half finale against San Diego. Eickhoff, who has not pitched since June 17 because of a sore back, emerged fine after five innings at double-A Reading.
The Phillies, most likely, will send Mark Leiter Jr. to triple-A Lehigh Valley to keep him stretched as a starter rather than use him in the bullpen. Leiter posted a 3.31 ERA in his three starts as Eickhoff’s replacement.
Scott Kingery, a prospect at second base, has practiced some at third base while at triple A. There is not much to it; the Phillies view Kingery’s future at second base, with a possible arrival sometime in 2018. Mackanin said no request was made by him or his staff to have Kingery moonlight at third. “I think it’s good for them to play all over,” Mackanin said. … Jeremy Hellickson will pitch Thursday against Delawarean righty Chad Kuhl.