As Sean Burnett rests with nerve irritation in elbow, Christian Garcia could play a role


Pat Sullivan / AP

The most recent word on Sean Burnett’s aching elbow is relatively good. The Nationals have ruled out ligament damage as a cause for the irritation, which is important for a pitcher like Burnett, who has undergone Tommy John surgery in the past. Team doctors diagnosed nerve irritation, and they are hopeful a few days or a week off will calm down the pain and allow Burnett to return to his typical performance level.

With Burnett down, the Nationals may rely on an untested but compelling option. Yesterday, they warmed up call-up Christian Garcia in the seventh inning of a game that stood at 1-0. If Ross Detwiler had not cruised through the inning, Garcia may have been called on to face a right-handed batter, making his major league debut in a key spot.

Detwiler ended the inning, and his fabulous start, with a double play ball. Garcia sat back down to make way for Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard in the eighth and ninth. Even if he didn’t enter the game, the decision to get him loose showed the confidence they have in Garcia. On days when Ryan Mattheus needs a break – he pitched the two days prior to yesterday – they are not afraid to ask Garcia for key outs in the sixth or seventh.

With Burnett, one of their best set-up options, down for maybe the rest of the week, Garcia could work his way into a meaningful role. Everyone who has watched him comes away impressed. He throws a four-seam fastball that touches 98 miles per hour, a diving, 94-mph sinker, a 12-to-6 curve and a high-80s changeup. One scout said he sees Garcia as an eight-inning set-up man in the near future.

The rest of this month, Garcia may only get a taste of the major league. But it also seems possible he becomes a significant part of the Nationals’ bullpen.

Adam Kilgore covers national sports for the Washington Post. Previously he served as the Post's Washington Nationals beat writer from 2010 to 2014.

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James Wagner · September 4, 2012