Phillies prospect Elniery Garcia pitching well after suspension

READING — Elniery Garcia entered the season with big-league aspirations after the Phillies thought enough of the lefthander to place him on the 40-man roster. He pitched well in spring training and hoped this would be the year he reached the majors.

But Garcia started the minor-league season on the disabled list. And then he was suspended 80 games after testing positive for a banned substance. Those aspirations took a mighty blow.

“It was a tough moment for me,” Garcia said through an interpreter. “It sucked, but it is what it is.”

Garcia tested positive for Boldenone, an anabolic steroid that former Mets closer Jenrry Mejia used before his lifetime ban. Garcia said he was sick and used medications that he did not know were on the banned list.

He has pitched well in his first two starts with double-A Reading as he tries to make up for lost time. He allowed just two hits in five innings Tuesday night and had excellent movement on his curveball. His fastball sat in the low-90s, just as it did before his suspension. Garcia worked quickly and pitched aggressively.

[Jesen Therrien learned from under Montreal compatriot Eric Gagne]

“Those lefthanded curveballs are tough. I was a righthanded hitter,” Reading manager Greg Legg said. “It improves every year a little bit. It’s tight and has good spin on it. I’ve seen him throw some good sliders, too. He’s gotten better from his first start to second start, so hopefully he continues that. He looked sharper than he did the other night. He was sharp the other night [Aug. 9], but he was better this time. His breaking ball was better and had good velocity on his fastball. I was pleased.”

It was easy to forget about Garcia as he sat for four months of the season. The buzz he created last season seemed to diminish after he was suspended. But Garcia, who will turn 23 in December, can still have a role among the impressive group of pitchers moving through the bottom levels of the minor leagues.

Garcia’s ability to keep up with that group will depend on how he responds to adversity. Garcia credits his initial success to Roy Halladay, who helped prepare him after he returned from suspension. Halladay has been helping  minor-league pitchers this season at the team’s complex in Clearwater, Fla.

“I didn’t want to feel bad for myself, and I just tried to stay positive,” Garcia said. “He told me to put my head down and keep fighting because these are things that we go through in our career. He was a huge help.”

Garcia had a 2.68 ERA last season in the second half with Clearwater, striking out 91 and walking 36 in 117 2/3 innings. He did not throw a pitch at double-A, but the Phillies saw enough promise to add him to the 40-man roster and protect him from the Rule 5 draft.

His 40-man spot is likely safe. He will have a few more starts this season to prove himself before starting next season with those aspirations that seemed to be wasted this year.

“To be back feels awesome,” Garcia said. “Nothing’s changed, and I want to be the same pitcher that I was before.”