Christian Garcia sat at his locker in the Nationals clubhouse Monday morning, a red team shirt and shorts on, his long legs sprawled out in front of him, chatting with a member of the coaching staff. Reliever Tyler Clippard walked into the room, a familiar face from long ago when both players were in the New York Yankees organization in 2004.
Garcia, 27, stood up, Clippard noticed him and both shared a long embrace in the middle of the room. “Good to see you,” they said.
It’s been a long road for Garcia, a survivor of two Tommy John surgeries who signed with the Nationals after a bullpen session before evaluators in Florida last July. And now, he had finally made it.
After notching his 14th save for the Class AAA Syracuse Chiefs in Sunday’s game in Rochester, N.Y., Garcia was told that he had been selected as a Nationals September call-up. It was unexpected, Garcia said, because if he was going to be called up he thought it would be after Syracuse’s season finale on Monday. His first call was to his parents.
“It was great,” he said. “I was emotional. They’ve been with me, supporting me the whole time…When things are going well everybody’s there, but when things are going bad, my parents are the ones who’ve been there through it.”
Garcia, a one-time Yankees starting prospect, propelled himself into consideration as perhaps the Nationals’ best relieving prospect and a call-up candidate with an eye-popping season. He has electric stuff and a powerful fastball. In 18 games for Class AA Harrisburg, he allowed only three earned runs and struck out 28 batters over 20 innings, notching seven saves. At Syracuse, he did better: an 0.56 ERA over 32 1/3 innings, two earned runs allowed and 38 strikeouts.
After his second Tommy John surgery in 2010, Garcia pitched only 20 1/3 innings last season. He has thrown a combined 52 1/3 innings this season — the most work he’s logged since 2008. But thanks to his offseason conditioning program, Garcia said he feels strong and ready to pitch in September. He may even see action on Monday, if he’s needed.
“I feel healthy, 100 percent,” he said. “I’m not tired at all. I think I just got another shot of life getting up here.”
When he missed nearly a year and half recovering from surgery, Garcia said it changed his perspective. He didn’t think of quitting. It was just another obstacle in his life. Now, he gets to don a major league uniform, in the midst of a pennant race.
“Going through everything I’ve been through and still having an opportunity to live my dream, it felt real. I never gave up on myself but I never knew when that day would come…
“When you’re out of the game … just sitting, watching, and you miss the little things that you normally would complain about and stuff,” he said. “When I got back I tried not to complain, just to be thankful and humble and live every moment, live it up. Because you never know when your last day’s going to be.”