Toronto — Bryan Garcia was throwing in the bullpen here Thursday, just doing some light tossing ahead of what will be his first big-league start here Friday night, when the bullpen phone rang.
“Dang,” Garcia said, laughing. “I don’t miss that sound.”
That Garcia will be the 15th different starting pitcher used by the Tigers tells you all you need to know about how this season has gone.
“Hell no,” said Garcia, when asked if he’d ever even imagined it. “If you would’ve told me at the beginning of the year I would’ve said you were nuts. If you would’ve told this three weeks ago, I would have told you that you were crazy.”
Garcia pitched in 72 games for the Tigers between 2019 and 2021, all in relief. He finished 2020 as the club’s closer. He was a reliever and closer his entire career at the University of Miami and never made a start at any rung of the minor leagues.
But things went off the rails for him last year. He lost his mechanics, his command, his ability to get outs and ultimately his spot on the Tigers’ 40-man roster. His signed back on a minor-league deal and was invited to big-league camp, but he wasn’t really a candidate to make the team.
Still, he never stopped grinding, never lost faith in himself and he’s put together a solid season at Triple-A for the Mud Hens, posting a 2.90 ERA in 40.1 innings.
“Last year was tough, for sure,” he said. “I just dumbed it down in the offseason. Just kept throwing and got back to my mechanics and kind of took off. I got a lot of help from the (coaches) here and in Toledo and the development coordinators.
“They gave me drills that I do religiously now, weighted balls stuff. I kind of fine-tuned my mechanics so even if I have an off-day and don’t feel right, it’s not how it was last year when I was nowhere near the zone.”
It was Garcia’s idea to make the transition to the rotation.
“I was throwing well and the season is coming to an end in another couple of months and I’m a free agent after this year,” he said. “So let’s try something new and give teams for next year an eye on some things I can do. Kind of playing the long game, almost. I enjoyed it and now we’re here.”
He’s here because the Tigers got a free roster spot when reliever Andrew Chafin was put on the restricted list for this series. Unvaccinated, he was unable to travel to Toronto. So the Tigers could give Garcia a shot without taking someone off the 40-man roster.
“He’s done a nice job all year and he probably should’ve got a chance in our ‘pen,” manager AJ Hinch said. “But we haven’t had any openings. We stretched him out and his stuff stayed the same in three to four-inning stints.
“Quite honestly, we get a chance to look at him again and see what adjustments he’s made … I’m not sure it’s a long-term play. Right now, we have nothing to lose.”
The Tigers brought veteran right-hander Derek Law with them to Toronto, as well. The 31-year-old former Giants, Blue Jays and Twins pitcher has been the closer at Toledo. He’s serving on the taxi squad for this series and could be activated on Saturday — most likely taking Garcia’s place.
“He’s a guy we’ve had our eyes on for a while with all the talk of potential trades,” Hinch said of Law. “Plus, there’s a scenario where we could bring him up before the deadline and activate him — you can’t have enough right-handed pitching when you come to play Toronto.
“So if there is going to be any moves internally or from a trade, we wanted to have him ready to go.”
Little help from friends
On that rainy Sunday in Cleveland, the day before the All-Star break, Jeimer Candelario flew directly to Miami and for three days made the short drive to Hialeah to work out with his personal hitting coach Frank Valdez.
Valdez, who played for former Tigers’ manager Ron Gardenhire in Double A in the late 1980s, has been working with Candelario for three years. Must’ve been something in the water down there because Candelario has come back a different hitter. Entering play Thursday, he was 11 for 24 since the break with two doubles and four home runs.
“Everybody here in the big leagues works with a hitting coach,” Candelario said. “I work really hard all the time. I love to work with my guys here (Scott Coolbaugh and Mike Hessman). But I had that time off and I went to Miami because I didn’t want to sit out.
“You know, there were no resources (during the break) so you have to figure it out. It’s not any different. I was working hard with Coolie or Mike and then during the break I worked with Frank. It was the same thing, just things started to go in the right way.”
Candelario said there was nothing specific that happened in Miami that unlocked him. There was no big mechanical change. He’s not sure anything especially clicked. He said he has the same comfort level with the Tigers’ hitting coaches and he has with Valdez.
The way he sees it, it was just time all his hard work starting paying off.
“I’m getting better,” he said. “I’m in a good position right now and I just have to continue to do the same things. When you know you can hit, it’s going to come.”
Around the horn
Right-hander Matt Manning (shoulder) pitched 5.2 shutout innings with six strikeouts Wednesday in what likely will be his final rehab start. He threw 85 pitches. “That’s the best stuff he’s had,” Hinch said. “And he held it the entire time. The performance matched his stuff. It came together for him.” Hinch said Manning will meet the team in Minnesota on Sunday and work out how to slot him back into the Tigers’ rotation.
… Reliever Wily Peralta pitched a scoreless ninth with three strikeouts to earn the save for Toledo Wednesday night. He likely will have two more rehab outings before he become an option to return.
Tigers at Blue Jays
► First pitch: 7:07 p.m. Friday, Rogers Centre, Toronto
► TV/radio: Apple TV/97.1 FM
► RHP Bryan Garcia (season debut), Tigers: Between 2019 and 2021 he made 72 appearances, all in relief. He finished 2020 as the Tigers’ closer. But things fell apart for him last season (7.55 ERA, 1.85 WHIP) and he was designated for assignment. He stayed in the organization and earlier this month began transitioning to a starting role. He’s made three starts and thrown as many as 54 pitches. He’s up taking advantage of the free roster spot cleared by Andrew Chafin, who is on the restricted list.
► RHP Alek Manoah (11-4, 2.24), Toronto: He’s having a breakout year, including almost stealing the show with his mic’d-up inning in the All-Star Game. Opponents are hitting .210 off him with a meek hard-hit rate of 28%. That’s in the top 3 percentile in baseball. He throws a wicked slider (33% whiff rate) off a 94-mph four-seam fastball. His changeup is also an effective weapon against left-handed hitters (5 for 45).