Christian Garcia could start for Nats next season

Alex Brandon/AP

Christian Garcia has been receiving treatment for a sore bicep since his last outing on Saturday and will be available to pitch Monday, Nationals Manager Davey Johnson said. But, the biggest news revealed about the 27-year-old reliever on Monday is that the Nationals are hoping to convert Garcia into a starter next season.

Garcia, a former starting prospect for the New York Yankees after he was drafted in 2004, overcame three surgeries, including two Tommy John surgeries, to earn a call up to the Nationals this September. He has impressed many with his electric stuff, a high-octane fastball and killer changeup, in his nine appearances out of the bullpen – so much so that the Nationals want him to start next spring training as a starter and have him compete for a spot in the rotation.

“I actually talked to [pitching coach Steve] McCatty — I think he could be able to start,” Johnson said. “You can get a better base in the arm and he has three pitches like a starter would have. He’s got a changeup, curveball, good, hard fastball. He would be a candidate for me to start next year.”

The heart of the Nationals’ rotation — Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler — is under team control for the next several years. But Edwin Jackson is not under contract next season, signing for a one-year, $10 million deal in the offseason. John Lannan, who replaced Strasburg in the rotation two weeks ago, is under team control through 2013, one more arbitration-eligible season before he hits free agency. Garcia could be an option to fill the back end of the rotation.

 “That’s one area where our depth is a little less,” Johnson said. “You could always go from starting and having that regular work, which is good for building up arm endurance. Then go from that into relief role. But it’s very hard once you start the season as a reliever. I think [Garcia is] real comfortable because he is in the major leagues as a reliever and probably wouldn’t want to think about starting right now, but come next spring it might be a good way to ensure the health of his arm. Relieving is a little more irregular, but with an arm like he’s got, starting might be a good option.”

Garcia was headed to the Arizona Fall League to continue pitching after the Class AAA Syracuse season ended. But once he got called up to the Nationals, that was nixed and he has performed well in nine games this month. The Nationals hope to keep him on a limit of around 60 innings this season; he threw 52 1/3 innings in the minor leagues this season. But that won’t affect his ability to make the postseason roster, Johnson said.

Johnson felt like Garcia’s talents – three major league pitches – were being wasted in the bullpen. “Those are three good weapons to go through the lineup two or three times,” he said. And if he is kept on a regular starter’s schedule, it could help preserve his arm. Johnson said he checked on the impact of Garcia’s three previous operations to make sure the right-hander’s elbow can handle a new pitching role.

“I had [McCatty] talk to him [about starting],” Johnson said. “[Garcia] said, ‘I actually like the ‘pen.’ Yeah, because you’re up here in the ‘pen, in the big leagues. Correct answer.”

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