CLEARWATER, Fla. — Rony Garcia has a smile on his face.
He is thinking back to his favorite memory from the offseason.
The 24-year-old right-hander, a former Rule 5 draft pick, always wanted to face 31-year-old outfielder Marcell Ozuna, a nine-year MLB veteran from the Dominican Republic. He assumed his first opportunity would come in the big leagues with the Detroit Tigers.
“But the first time I ever had a chance, it was in the Dominican Republic,” Garcia said last week, with Tigers bilingual media coordinator Carlos Guillen interpreting. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Pitching for Estrellas de Oriente in the Dominican Winter League, Garcia got Ozuna to pop out to first base in the first inning Dec. 30 at Estadio Tetelo Vargas. It was Garcia’s first postseason start and his second outing in winter ball.
In the fourth inning, Garcia struck out Ozuna swinging on three pitches.
“I had a lot of trust in my pitches,” Garcia said, “so I was attacking the zone.”
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Garcia posted a 3.24 ERA with 13 walks and 14 strikeouts in 16⅔ innings across five playoff games in the Dominican Winter League. He also made one start in the regular season, delivering two scoreless innings in his first game back from a season-ending left knee injury in June at Comerica Park.
He logged a 2.45 ERA with two walks and two strikeouts across 3⅔ innings in two appearances out of the Tigers’ bullpen. He would have earned more opportunities had he not been sidelined for the rest of the year.
“I feel pretty good,” Garcia said. “I know that I have a chance to make the roster, so I’m going to do my best to give 100% to make the roster. I’m going to work hard to get it.”
Returning from a torn meniscus was Garcia’s biggest accomplishment this offseason, much more important than punching out Ozuna — a two-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner — in a crucial postseason matchup.
A healthy Garcia is in the mix for a spot on the Tigers’ Opening Day roster. His chances will increase if rosters expand by one or two players due to the condensed spring training, a product of MLB’s 99-day lockout that lasted until March 10.
Garcia profiles this season as a reliever in MLB but a starter in Triple-A Toledo.
“He’s pretty effective,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “He’s got a funky arm angle and release point. He’s someone that we’re going to need to see more in the next couple of weeks to see if he breaks with us. He’s got every pitch imaginable. It doesn’t look like the hitters pick him up very easily. I’m happy with Rony.”
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Garcia has a career 7.30 ERA with 11 walks and 16 strikeouts over 24⅔ innings in 17 games (two starts) for the Tigers in parts of two seasons. He posted a 3.20 ERA with 10 walks and 24 strikeouts in 19⅔ innings (four starts) for Toledo last season.
The Tigers selected Garcia in the 2019 Rule 5 draft from the New York Yankees.
“I kept my same pitches: fastball, slider and changeup,” Garcia said. “The pitches that I worked on most in the Dominican Republic were the slider and the changeup. I had a chance to polish them there, so they are sharp now.
“The slider is the one I trust the most because now I can throw it as the first pitch of the at-bat and at the end of the at-bat. I have full control of it. My changeup is pretty good, and I have pretty good confidence in it, but mostly I use it against left-handed hitters.”
Andrew Chafin throws live BP
Neither has appeared in a spring training game yet. Chafin signed a two-year, $13 million contract March 16. He will make his spring training debut Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Lakeland.
“They’re OK,” Hinch said. “They’re doing fine. It feels like, it really goes, but they’re both ready. Chafin is going to pitch tomorrow, and Cisnero will be not too far behind that. They’ll still have plenty of time to make, whether it’s four or five or six outings, depending on what you count as an outing.
“What I have no concern about is a veteran player who knows the lights turn on here in a few weeks.”
Tigers make roster moves
The Tigers made four roster moves before Tuesday’s spring training game against the Philadelphia Phillies, all involving right-handed pitchers.
Faedo, the No. 18 overall pick in the 2017 draft, is back to on-field action after undergoing Tommy John surgery in January 2021. The 26-year-old pitched one scoreless inning with one walk and one strikeout in MLB camp.
“It’s now time for him not to be a patient anymore and to be an athlete again,” Hinch said. “He’s passed that test, and now he can go build himself back up. We have a pretty regimented program for him for the first month, and then he’ll get to the upper levels where he’s supposed to be.
“Conquering the first game back, for him, was a big deal. He’s handled it like a pro. He’s respected the people that have helped him. He’s got real stuff, so it’s nice to have him back as a prospect again and not on the rehab column.”
The Tigers also sent Nivaldo Rodriguez — not on the 40-man roster — to minor-league spring training. The organization previously reassigned catcher Dillon Dingler and right-handers Beau Brieske, Garrett Hill and Logan Shore to minors camp.
There are 53 players remaining in MLB spring training.
Baez’s Lakeland debut
Entering Tuesday, Baez is hitting .250 (1-for-4) with one double, one RBI and one strikeout in two spring training games. He signed a six-year, $140 million contract in the offseason.