Monday afternoon, Christian Garcia warmed up in the Nationals‘ bullpen in the seventh inning of a one-run game. He had never pitched in the major leagues, but the scope the situation barely struck him. “It doesn’t faze me, that kind of stuff,” Garcia said. “When you do it for so long and you’ve been through the things I’ve been through, there’s nothing that really fazes you.”
Garcia did not pitch Monday. He waited one day for the first appearance of his career, a debut three surgeries and years of rehab in the making. Garcia put the final, satisfying touch on his comeback from two Tommy John elbow reconstructions and another operation on Tuesday night. He jogged in from the bullpen and retired the only batter he faced with a popup to first, the end of a long journey and the start of a promising career.
“It’s awesome. I can’t even explain how awesome it is,” Garcia said. “When I left the bullpen, I was running, I was just looking up in the stands, looking up at all the people. Just taking it in.”
Garcia had taken a winding, painful path to his first start. He underwent Tommy John surgery for the first time in 2006, one year after the Yankees chose him in the third round out of high school in Miami. The pain in his elbow returned, and in 2009 he had surgery to shave down a bone spur. In 2010, his ulnar collateral ligament snapped again and he underwent a second Tommy John surgery. The Yankees cut him, and the Nationals picked up after a tryout last summer.
“I dream big,” Garcia said. “I always thought one day it would happen. I didn’t think it would take this long, but it did. I appreciate it. I’m very humble. I’m very happy to be here, and I thank the Nationals for the opportunity.”
When Garcia, 27, arrived on the mound Tuesday night, catcher Jesus Flores greeted him and asked what kind of signs he wanted to use for his pitches. “Without taking a breath,” Garcia said, “I talked for like a minute.” Flores calmed him down.
“I took a deep breath and then had fun,” Garcia said. “That was the main thing. I told myself to enjoy and have fun. After all the years and stuff, I’m not going to go up there and get nervous. I’m going to go out there and have fun, put a smile on my face.”
Garcia peered in at the batter, Cubs catcher Welington Castillo. He threw a first-pitch, 96-mph fastball, which is typical – he sometimes touches 98. Castillo took it for ball one, and the umpire rolled the ball out of play. “I didn’t even know they switched out the first pitch,” Garcia said later. “It happened really fast.”
Castillo fouled off another 96-mph fastball, and then he popped another fastball up to first baseman Adam LaRoche. After LaRoche snagged the ball, he flipped it to Garcia and said, “Congratulations.” Garcia planned on giving the ball to his parents.
“It’s still not real to me,” Garcia said. “My best friend’s in town, and I was talking to my parents. I still can’t believe. As a kid you grow up and you’re sitting in the stands watching all those baseball players playing. You never picture yourself being one of those guys. Now it’s reality. I’m not just sitting. I’m actually playing.”
Manager Davey Johnson had considered bringing in Garcia in the sixth inning, as Edwin Jackson sputtered at the end of an otherwise strong start. He waited until there was only a man on first base rather than men on scoring position.
“The way he threw the ball, I should have brought him in,” Johnson said. “I like how the ball comes out of his hands. He’s got a live arm.”
If Johnson had considered Garcia’s story, perhaps he would have brought him in with men on base. After what it took for Garcia to get here, it would not have fazed him.
“You go out there and just have fun,” Garcia said. “At the end of the day, it’s still a kid’s game. Some people put a lot of pressure on themselves, and I’m not one of those guys.”
FROM THE POST
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