Detroit Tigers right-handed reliever Bryan Garcia knows manager AJ Hinch carries baggage because of his role in the 2017 Houston Astros sign-stealing plot.
Still, Hinch is a champion.
“I was pumped,” Garcia said Monday, explaining his reaction to Hinch’s hiring in late October. “I mean, the guy has won a World Series. I’ve only heard good things from people around baseball about him, so I’m very excited to see what we can do.”
With Hinch, the Tigers will implement a new bullpen philosophy, eliminating defined roles and using pitchers for multiple innings. That won’t be a problem for Garcia, who filled in as the closer in September to conclude last season. He is confident the tactics employed by Hinch and pitching coach Chris Fetter will guide the Tigers back to the top.
“That’s kind of the stuff you do in spring training,” Garcia said. “You show up in spring training, throw your inning for a couple of outings, and then you’ll build up and get into the twos, maybe two-plus (innings). Throwing, nothing’s going to change.”
Garcia hasn’t spoken to Hinch, but Fetter — who spent the last three years as Michigan’s pitching coach — recently chatted with him on a phone call. Fetter, 34, replaces former pitching coach Rick Anderson, who is 64 years old.
Age, however, doesn’t matter to Garcia. It’s about results.
“The Tigers, in general, have been making that move to being more analytical,” Garcia said, “and I think he’s going to be that final piece, hopefully, to make it easier for us to understand what is going to make us successful.”
Although Garcia pitched for the Tigers in 2019, he didn’t become a full-timer in the majors until 2020. He registered a 1.66 ERA, 1.292 WHIP, 10 walks and 12 strikeouts in 21⅔ innings across 26 games.
The secret to Garcia’s improvement — after a 12.15 ERA in seven games two seasons ago — was pitching with the same confidence he had in 2017, which he spent in Single-A West Michigan (14 games), High-A Lakeland (seven), Double-A Erie (17) and Triple-A Toledo (14).
But Tommy John surgery, a procedure required to fix Garcia’s throwing elbow, in February 2018 set him back, both mentally and physically.
“(In) 2019, it was just figuring things out again, figuring out how to get guys out on the fly almost,” Garcia said. “I finally felt confident out there (in 2020). Those last three or four weeks, if I could pitch like that for this next full season, I’ll be very happy.”
In the final month, from Aug. 25 through Sept. 26, Garcia posted a 0.84 ERA, allowing just one run on eight hits and six walks across 10⅔ innings. He finished the year as the only MLB pitcher to have 11-or-more inherited runners without allowing any of them to score.
The only other Tiger reliever to achieve this mark was Luis Pineda in 2001, stranding the 12 runners he inherited.
“It’s just having your teammates’ backs,” Garcia said. “There were two times I got pulled with the bases loaded early in the season, and (Gregory) Soto and (Jose) Cisnero came in and got the last out and didn’t allow those runs to score. That’s huge for me.
“Gives you confidence. You feel like, ‘Yeah, things didn’t go my way yesterday, but I kind of got away with it, so let’s see what we can do today.’ And with a clean inning, it’s all you out there.”
Whether it was getting out of jams or avoiding them, Garcia took a step forward in his career last season. Because of the new coaching staff, he doesn’t expect to be deemed the team’s closer from the onset.
Yet Garcia has a knack for demonstrating he has what it takes.
“Proved to myself that I do belong and can be successful,” Garcia said about his biggest takeaway from last season. “You always tell yourself that, but it’s nice when you can prove it to yourself.”