Christian Garcia makes his push for a significant role in the Nationals’ bullpen

September 12, 2012

Before the Nationals scored two in the ninth inning last night, they clung to a one-run lead in the seventh. With Sean Burnett still unavailable, Manager Davey Johnson had to choose a different seventh-inning setup man. In the middle of a playoff race, in the most crucial situation a reliever can inherit, Johnson picked a call-up with four games of experience.

Christian Garcia is a name you should get to know, if you do not already. Last night, he shut down the Mets with a 1 1/3-inning tour de force. He struck out all three batters he faced in the seventh, then retired David Wright with a lineout to right field to start the eighth.

Afterward, Garcia shrugged when he considered the stakes of the moment, by far the biggest moment he has jogged into. He underwent two Tommy John surgeries and a third operation to remove a bone chip from his elbow. His crooked path to the majors has made him unafraid of the moment, undaunted by his opponents.

“I just compete,” Garcia said. “I go out there, you’re facing guys like David Wright, stuff like that. I look at them just like any other ballplayer. If you ask me who I faced tonight, I know I faced big-league hitters. That’s who I faced. I’m going to go in there and do what I can. I’m not going to change my approach for the guy who is standing in there. I’m going to go in there and go after him.”

Garcia showed his full repertoire Monday. After he fell behind Jordanny Valdespin with three consecutive balls, Garcia threw nine more pitches in the seventh. The Mets swung at and missed five of them. Garcia put himself into favorable counts with his mid-90s fastball, and then he unleashed his changeup, which the Mets treated like a magic trick. He whiffed Ruben Tejada with a dive-bombing, 86-mph changeup, and he struck out Dan Murphy with a 12-to-6 power curveball.  

“Pretty nasty,” starter Jordan Zimmermann said. “He’s got a really good changeup and really good slider and he throws mid-upper 90s. So he’s got all the tools, that’s for sure.”

In his five innings so far, Garcia has allowed only one run, a solo homer by Giancarlo Stanton on Sunday in  the seventh inning of a 6-0 game. He’s struck out seven with no walks and been as impressive as his 0.86 ERA in the minors portended.

“I really like the way I’ve seen him throw,” Johnson said. “He has an outstanding repertoire of stuff. He’s got some great weapons. The sinker he threw the third baseman, they were raving about it on the mound. They said, ‘That big donkey’s got a better sinker than [Ryan] Mattheus!’ I said, I wondered what that was. I didn’t know what it was. I guess when you’re [6-5] and throwing downhill, it might have a little sink to it.”

There is still plenty of time between now and when the Nationals choose their 25-man postseason roster. “It’s too early for that,” Johnson said. But Garcia’s initial impression has surely put him in the discussion.

“Without a doubt,” Garcia said. “I want to show them what I have to offer and help the team any way I can. But that’s not something I can control, so I don’t really think about that. Any way I can get this team a scoreless inning is what I’m trying to do.

“I come in here and just try to get my job done. When I’m called upon, I can put up a zero. That’s my job. That’s my goal. I let the other stuff, somebody else handle it.”

Garcia has been awfully impressive so far. With Burnett back tomorrow, and with Ryan Mattheus available again (he pitched Monday night), Garcia may go back to more of a mop-up role. But so far, the way he’s thrown the ball, he seems to demand something much greater.

FROM THE POST

Tyler Moore’s pinch-hit homer off R.A. Dickey lifted the Nationals to a 5-3 win over the Mets, James Wagner writes.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Morse out, getting tests on wrist

LaRoche wants to stay

Burnett available tonight

Schedule looking tougher

Gonzalez a Cy Young candidate

THE PLAYOFF PICTURE

Nats’ magic number for the division: 13

For a wild card: 7

Current NL playoff matchups

Nationals vs. Braves/Cardinals*

Reds vs. Giants

*Braves lead Cardinals by 5 1/2 games; Cardinals lead Dodgers by 1 game. The Phillies and Brewers are suddenly only 4 games behind St. Louis.

Adam Kilgore covers the Nationals for The Washington Post.
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Adam Kilgore · September 11, 2012