Pittsburgh — Some players can watch themselves on video and see precisely where their mechanics have gone off track. With other players, watching video is a waste of time. They have to feel it.
Tigers reliever Bryan Garcia is in the latter category.
“Everybody has a different pitching language in their brain,” he said. “With me, it was just give and take, give and take and then, bang, I finally started to feel comfortable.”
Garcia finished last season as the Tigers’ closer, but he never, not from the start of spring training and through a bout with COVID-19, found any traction this season. He barely made the team out of spring and has been twice optioned down to Triple-A Toledo.
“Everything was out of whack,” he said. “I’d be working on something one day and I’d throw a good pitch in the bullpen and I’d be like, let’s repeat that. Then you try to repeat it and it’s just not there.”
He gave up 26 earned runs in 32 innings with the Tigers. His ERA at Triple-A Toledo was 5.40. But since Aug. 17, something has clicked. He gave up just one run in his last 10.1 innings with eight strikeouts and three walks.
It was good enough to earn him a third opportunity to reestablish himself with the Tigers. He and Drew Hutchison were summoned from Toledo to replace Joe Jimenez (COVID injured list) and Drew Carlton (optioned).
“There’s some consideration on a lot of fronts when you are deciding on who to call up and recent performance certainly matters,” manager AJ Hinch said. “He struggled early when he got sent down. He’s seemed to put it together the last month or so.”
Toledo pitching coach Doug Bochtler stripped Garcia’s mechanics down to the base and essentially rebuilt them.
“Just broke it all down and tried to figure out what was wrong,” Garcia said. “I was frustrated. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t struggle at times with not getting the results. I knew I had to be patient. It was going to take some time.”
But it was hard to grasp how it had all disintegrated so quickly. He posted an ERA under 2.0 last year with the Tigers. He’d never struggled like he had this season.
“Anybody that tells you they pitch the same way when they’re struggling, I’d like to say they’re lying,” he said. “It’s tough, man. Going out there when you know you don’t got it, you know something is wrong and you are trying to figure it out.”
On Aug. 17 against Indianapolis, he’d given up a couple of hits but escaped the inning without a run and feeling like something felt right.
“I threw the ball OK, not great, but there were three or four pitches where I felt something,” Garcia said. “The next day we were going over my outing and I said, I felt this and Doug said, ‘That’s kind of what I was trying to tell you but you feel it in a different way than I explained it.’”
But that was it. The mid-90s sinker was darting like it used to. He started putting the slider and change-up where he wanted to. And he started getting outs.
“When things start going well and you start getting the results you want, you start to go out there with a little chip on your shoulder,” he said. “You pitch with more confidence. I’m feeling good and I am happy to be back.”
Funny thing, too, right before he started feeling right, he’d stopped stressing about getting called back up to Detroit. Not that he gave up on it, he just stopped grousing about it.
“I was just, let’s finish out the season strong, wherever we are,” he said. “Then let’s carry it into the offseason and into next year. Regardless of where you are, just start feeling those mechanics so you can carry it into the offseason.
“And once I stopped worrying about getting back up here, I started pitching better.”
The Tigers had no more positive COVID-19 tests or any other members of the staff shut down through contact training
“Everything is fine,” Hinch said. “We’re monitoring the situation.”
Reliever Joe Jimenez and bench coach George Lombard remained symptomatic and quarantined in their hotel rooms. Pitching coach Chris Fetter, quality control coach Josh Paul and bullpen catcher Jeremy Carroll — shut down for seven days from contact tracing — drove back to Detroit.
“We didn’t have any other testing today,” Hinch said. “We don’t feel exposed beyond what we announced. Hopefully it stays that way.”
It could have been much worse had the Tigers not had a 100% player vaccination rate.
“We were never in jeopardy of losing another player from contact tracing,” Hinch said. “We were in jeopardy of symptoms, though. If anybody had those allergy symptoms, running nose, coughing, fatigue, and you’re reporting that — you’re in danger of testing positive.
“But we knew yesterday were full-go minus Joe.”
Around the horn
The Tigers had to replace Jimenez from the 40-man roster. Hinch explained that only in the case of a COVID breakout among players could they have called up players not on the 40-man roster. “Three or more players have to be impacted by a COVID outbreak,” he said.
Tigers at Pirates
►Site: PNC Park, Pittsburgh
►First pitch: 6:35 p.m.
►TV/Radio: BSD, 97.1
►RHP Matt Manning (3-6, 6.29), Tigers: This will be his 14th big-league start, and that alone is a win in terms of Manning’s development going into next year. But he is still very much a work in progress. He needs to figure out how to handle right-handed hitters, for starters. They are slashing .318/.365/.487 against him, better than lefties.
►RHP Mitch Keller (4-10, 6.23), Pirates: He’s not allowed a run in two of his last three starts covering 11 innings against the Cardinals and Cubs. But that middle start against the Cards, he got lit up (seven runs in 5.1 innings). Opponents are averaging and slugging more than 100 points higher off his four-seam fastball this year compared to last season.
— Chris McCosky