Right-hander Rony García hitting his stride in hybrid role

Detroit Tigers

PHOENIX — Rony García won his second straight start for the Tigers on Friday, pitching 5 1/3 innings of three-hit, one-run ball against the D-backs at Chase Field.

For the 24-year-old right-hander, being part of a big league rotation is a notable leap in his fortunes, given the obstacles he’s faced in his professional career. Now, García is trying to make the most of this opportunity that came about with injuries to Casey Mize and Michael Pineda, among others, in addition to Eduardo Rodríguez’s current stint on the restricted list.

“I feel really happy to have the chance to be a starter in the Major Leagues,” García said. “It’s a privilege and I’ve been focused on doing my job every time they give me the opportunity.”

It’s been a bumpy road for García. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2015 by the Yankees, he seemed to be stuck in New York’s Minor League system when he was selected by the Tigers in the 2019 Rule 5 Draft, which meant he’d have to remain on the big league roster for all of the following season if Detroit wanted to keep him.

In the shortened 2020 campaign, García — without normal preparation after Spring Training was halted by the pandemic — registered an 8.14 ERA in 15 games (two starts). The next year, an appendectomy wiped out another Spring Training for the righty, and after a promotion from Triple-A Toledo at the end of May, a sprained left knee ended his season after only 3 2/3 innings with the Tigers.

“He’s been around a little bit longer than he’s given credit for, just because of the injuries and the Rule 5 year,” said Tigers manager A.J. Hinch. “He’s been able to handle any role we’ve given him.”

One key for García in his quest to make his mark in the Detroit organization has been an effective slider, with movement that at times makes it more characteristic of a curve. Over the last two winters, improving that pitch has been a large focus of his offseason routine, with the help of Minor League pitching instructor Jorge Córdova in Lakeland, Fla., and on his own in the Dominican Republic.

The result has been a .152 opposing batting average and .342 slugging against the slider, which he throws 30.8 percent of the time, his second-most used weapon after a four-seam fastball (47.3 percent).

“I had a lot of problems in the 2020 season, so I wanted to work on it,” García said of his slider. “That pitch for me, after my fastball, is the one that saves me. I was practicing it a lot and threw it a lot in the Dominican. I think that was one of the things that helped get to the point where I am right now.”

According to Hinch, García is likely to switch back to a swingman role when the Tigers’ rotation gets healthier. Until then, García — slated to make his next start on Wednesday in San Francisco — wants to make the best impression possible in his current role.

“I try to be as focused as possible,” said García, whose 4.57 ERA for the season in 43 1/3 innings is accompanied by a 25.7 percent strikeout rate and 6.4 percent walk rate. “I’ve had to go all in, 100 percent, as a starter, give the team some well-pitched games and help the bullpen as much as possible.

“I go start by start, inning by inning. I throw this inning and move on to the next.”

Added Hinch: “We haven’t been consistent in how we’ve used him, which isn’t easy for a player. But I think he’s happy to be in the big leagues and he’s pitching to try to stay here.

“Right now, he’s doing what he needs to do to answer the bell every five days.”

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