Detroit Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire didn’t want to call right-hander Bryan Garcia his closer.
But he still did.
“Not necessarily,” Gardenhire said Friday. “But I guess you can say yes by the way we put him in the last couple times, or at least thought about it. We feel most comfortable with him right at this second. Absolutely. I’m not afraid to call him the closer, but that could change.”
Garcia entered Thursday’s Game 2 after the Tigers (20-23) scored five runs in the seventh inning for a 6-3 lead against the St. Louis Cardinals. Rather than relying on matchups, Gardenhire went with the 25-year-old because of his consistency. The decision paid off; the Cardinals were sent down in order.
[ Tigers carry ‘never give up’ mentality. Next up: Tough test vs. White Sox ]
Despite having only seven MLB appearances entering this season, Garcia has shown he knows how to block out his emotions and is proving he knows how to get those last three outs when many before him — like Joe Jimenez — haven’t been able to do so. He is turning into the rock of the Tigers’ bullpen with 17 games remaining.
“I talk to myself constantly while I’m pitching,” Garcia said Friday. “Before every pitch, I try to visualize and execute the pitch that’s called and (what) I’m trying to throw, so I got a pretty good idea of what I want to do. Constantly thinking, breathing and focusing on that stuff.”
Jimenez has given up 19 earned runs, including seven homers, in 15 innings this year. Even with his removal from the closer role in late August, Gardenhire hasn’t had an easy time finding spots for him to build his confidence.
[ Why Joe Jimenez is angry with Twins’ Miguel Sano: ‘He was wrong’ ]
It’s becoming impossible.
“No one’s more frustrated than Joey,” Gardenhire said. “He wants to do well. A lot of pressure on him, like there is a lot of other people. He’s just overdoing it right now.”
That’s where the reliable Garcia comes in, only conceding three runs in 17⅓ innings. He owns a 1.53 ERA, 1.096 WHIP and hasn’t allowed a run in his last nine outings. He was placed in a save situation twice this month — with a 10-8 lead over the Minnesota Twins on Sept. 6 and again on Thursday.
He got the needed three outs both times.
The Tigers, meanwhile, entered Friday two games back of the New York Yankees for the AL’s eighth and final playoff berth.
“It’s crazy, man,” Garcia said. “I don’t know if I would have predicted this. But I’m just happy to be here, trying to do my part and get this team some wins. I think we’re doing a great job, and we’re putting ourselves in a good spot. Nobody thought we’d be in the hunt at this point in the season, so I’m really happy with how we’re playing.”
Castro’s ‘adjustment period’
Since the Tigers called up shortstop Willi Castro from the alternate training site in Toledo on Aug. 11, he has emerged as one of the team’s most successful hitters. He has a .360 batting average in 22 games with three home runs and 13 RBIs — a massive improvement from his .230 mark in 30 games last season.
Hall of Famer Alan Trammell, while giving updates on top prospects Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson, made sure to mention Castro’s “outstanding” improvement.
[ Detroit Tigers’ Willi Castro’s routine, approach may be what keeps him in the lineup ]
Castro, however, still needs to make strides defensively as the everyday shortstop in the absence of Niko Goodrum, who is on the 10-day injured list with a right oblique strain and rehabbing in Toledo. He has made 12 starts with three errors in 41 chances.
“There’s going to be hiccups,” Trammell, who spent 20 seasons as the Tigers’ shortstop, said Thursday. “(The prospects) are not finished products. We all should understand that. We like what we see. I do believe he can handle it, and hopefully, over the next couple of weeks, he’s going to improve a little more.”
[ Could Detroit Tigers move shortstop Willi Castro to the outfield? ]
Goodrum’s injury forced Castro to move from third base — where he had seven starts — for the foreseeable future. He only played three innings of third base in six minor-league seasons because of his long-term projection as a shortstop.
Yet he still has room to grow.
“I think people think that these guys are robots, that we just plug them in over here and everything’s fine, or move them back over here,” Trammell said. “There’s some adjustment period. I know that’s sounding like an excuse, but those are facts.”
Center fielder JaCoby Jones had successful surgery on his left hand, which was fractured Sept. 1 when he was hit by a 90.3 mph fastball from Milwaukee Brewers reliever Phil Bickford in the Tigers’ 12-1 win at Miller Park.
“He had the surgery,” Gardenhire said. “Everything went well. They fixed his hand. He’s probably not going to play again this year.”
Assuming Jones is done for the year, he finished with a .268 batting average, five home runs and 14 RBIs in 30 games. He had a .423 batting average and .885 slugging percentage in July before going 15-for-69 (.217) in August.
[ How Detroit Tigers plan to adjust as JaCoby Jones’ season ends with fractured hand ]
Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content.