| The Detroit News
Lakeland, Fla. — Tigers manager AJ Hinch said it best about reliever Bryan Garcia.
“There’s a lot to like,” he said Sunday. “The statistics on the back of his baseball card look pretty good. There’s a lot of momentum for him moving forward.”
The statistics on the back of the baseball card: 2-1, 4 saves in six opportunities, 1.66 ERA. Pretty good, indeed, especially for a rookie right-hander two years removed from Tommy John surgery.
But, as is the case with old-school baseball card stats, that’s not the whole story. His 12.9 strikeout rate was in the bottom two percentile among major league pitchers. His swing-and-miss rate of 15.9 percent ranked in the bottom 12 percentile. His walk rate of 10.8 percent, in the bottom 27 percentile.
And yet, he limited opponents to a .220 batting average and a meek 30-percent hard-hit rate. He faced 93 hitters last year and didn’t give up a home run.
What this mash-up of positives and negatives tells Hinch and pitching coach Chris Fetter is that there’s another gear for Garcia get to.
“Oftentimes we talk about how we’re going to get this guy better with a 5.0 ERA or a 6.0 ERA,” Hinch said. “You can still do that with a guy who did well. Why did you do well? What was the difference-maker for you?
“He’s got a ton of development left, even though he made a nice first impression. He fits nicely as anything from a middle-to-late inning reliever and he’s going to fight to get that high-leverage role again.”
You heard that. Garcia may have finished last season as the Tigers’ closer, but that role is put up for grabs this spring.
“Yeah, AJ has already told us every job is open,” Garcia said. “It’s more about how are we going to be the best team. How are we going to win…It’s always a competition. Everyone wants to be in the back of the game, you want to be the closer. But it’s, whoever wins the job, awesome; and whoever doesn’t just be ready to throw the inning before.
“We’re here to win games. It’s not about who gets that final stat or who gets the save. It’s about how many games we win.”
Garcia, who set the saves record at the University of Miami, has both the stuff and the steely demeanor to close games. He’s as unflappable as they come, as he showed last season working out of trouble in most of his outings.
He throws a heavy fastball between 94 and 95 mph with a slider and a change-up that move in different directions at the same velocity (87 mph). Why the strikeouts and whiffs haven’t come is somewhat of a mystery.
“I wouldn’t say I’m stressed about it,” Garcia said. “I acknowledge it. But over the last three or four weeks last year, I had more success with the swing-and-miss percentage. I think I found some good things there that I’m looking to progress with more this season.”
Hinch and Fetter have their own thoughts on that. Using the fastball up in the zone would help him get more whiffs. Better sequencing of his pitches, being less predictable in certain counts would also help, as would throwing more strikes in getting in more pitcher-friendly counts.
“He’s an interesting guy,” Hinch said. “He’s got a great demeanor around camp. Very cool and calm but I think there’s a little inner burn that drives him…We just have to optimize how he uses his stuff…The thing about Bryan, you have to take the success he had and build off it.
“Even with that success, it’s not about going back out and doing it like he did last year. We’re going to challenge him to use his pitches a little more effectively in certain parts of the strike zone. The punch-outs can come as he climbs the ladder more with the type of fastball he has.”
That’s one of those easier-said-than-done things for Garcia. His primary fastball is a two-seam sinker that he got to the big leagues with by powering it down in the zone. He only threw 14 four-seam fastball last year. Not a one in 2019.
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“Fetter has talked to me about sequencing and not being predictable in certain counts, but stuff-wise, he said he likes how my stuff works,” Garcia said. “I know I have to work my fastball more in and out, up and down. I know how to do it, but in the heat of the moment sometimes it just slips your mind.”
Chances are it will slip his mind less often with Hinch and Fetter in his ear.
Around the horn
The sky was high and blue and the wind was gusting Sunday morning. Perfect day for pop fly drills for the catchers — or so a somewhat masochistic former big-league catcher thought. “Just like you’d want it,” Hinch said, laughing. Balls are hoisted into the sky with a Jugs machine with incredible backspin, making them hard to track and catch on calm days. “The buzz and conversation started in the catchers’ stretch group that it was going to be an entertaining day,” Hinch said. “But they handled it pretty well.” No concussions, no broken noses.
…Outfielder Daz Cameron is still limited by the elbow injury that ended his winter ball season in Puerto Rico. Hinch said Cameron was in on all the meetings and is participating in batting and running drills. He’s just not doing much throwing. “No setbacks or surprises,” Hinch said. “We just have him on a slower program.”
…Breaking news: Buck Farmer has shaved his beard.
…Rookie pitcher Franklin Perez was cleared to participate on Sunday. His COVID-19 intact test results had been delayed.
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