Christian Garcia is healthy, and he hopes to stay that way

Alex Brandon/AP

Alex Brandon/AP

Last year, Christian Garcia’s spring training lasted roughly one half of a bullpen session. The oft-injured right-hander envisioned a glorious 2013 season, a follow-up to his breakout 2012, as he snapped curveballs and rifled fastballs. And then he felt the familiar feeling of his body betraying him. He walked off the mound with a forearm strain. By the time that healed, he had developed a debilitating hamstring strain. For the purposes of the Nationals’ season, he may as well have disappeared.

Garcia, a 6-foot-5 fireballer with an electric arm and a history of rarely being able to use it, reported to spring training with his optimism unbroken and his body, at least for the moment, compliant. He feels 100 percent and is excited to compete for a job in the Nationals’ crowded bullpen.

“Just the fact that I get to participate this year, I’m excited about,” Garcia said.

Garcia underwent three elbow surgeries, including Tommy John twice, before he ever reached the majors in 2012. In a brief flash as a call-up, he was brilliant, pitching his way on to the Nationals’ playoff roster as a late-inning reliever after just a dozen innings. He threw a high-90s fastball, a wicked changeup and a hissing slider. Davey Johnson saw the makings of a starter, and the Nationals decided to stretch him out. The experiment lasted one day.

Garcia never threw another pitch in spring training after his ill-fated bullpen session. He rehabbed enough to work his way through the lower levels of the Nationals’ farm system. “The forearm was 100 percent,” Garcia said. After one outing, he felt a sharp pain in the back of his leg. The hamstring strain kept him from seeing the mound again.

“It was miserable,” Garcia said. “It was miserable, frustrating – you name it. I couldn’t control any of it, so I can’t dwell on it. That was last year.”

Garcia will start workouts Saturday with no restrictions, no different than any of his teammates. This afternoon, Garcia played catch in the outfield at Space Coast Stadium and fired some pitches off flat ground. Garcia pitched in the Mexican winter league for a month this offseason, posting a 2.16 ERA in 8 1/3 innings, striking out eight and walking six.

“I’m exactly the same as before,” Garcia said. “I’m fine. Every time I get hurt, I know I’m going to come back. There’s not a doubt in my mind that I won’t come back, because I won’t let myself not come back. It was, I guess, reassuring that I was able to get out there and be able to do it for a month straight without getting hurt. That was fun, knowing I could get out there and not get hurt.”

The Nationals have not told Garcia whether he will be a starter or reliever, he said, but he believes he will be back in the bullpen. His injury history would make it difficult for the Nationals to count on him. But if he stays healthy and regains his usual form, Garcia could make an impact in the bullpen this season.

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