Christian Garcia: Starter or reliever?

Christian Garcia: Starter or reliever?
February 2, 2013, 12:00 pm
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During a press conference at Nationals Park last September, manager Davey Johnson revealed the team’s plans to convert 27-year-old relief pitcher Christian Garcia into a starter. The decision was predicated on Garcia’s repertoire of three strong pitches and a looming shift in the organization's pitching depth.

Months later at NatsFest, reporters had the chance to talk to Garcia about the switch, but according to him he hasn’t heard what his role will be on the 2013 Nationals.

“I have no idea. Wherever they want to put me to play I am okay with it. Whatever I can help the team, any spot they need help with I would love to help in any way I can. So if it is starting, relieving, whatever it is.”

Garcia said that neither path really changes his offseason workout, that his training program will continue as is until he hears otherwise. He is currently training in Tampa, FL at the Performance Compound with Tyler Clippard and former Nats lefty John Lannan. 

As far as 2013 goes, Garcia is flexible to start or come out of the bullpen and has no real preference either way.

“I love relieving, I love it. Definitely late inning relieving, I love it. I like the pressure, I like that kind of stress, it’s just the kind of person I am.”

“Starter, it’s definitely different,” he said. “I got nine guys to worry about and remember all nine. There is a lot more thought that goes into starting than there is relieving, but I am up for the challenge either way.”

Garcia will compete in big league camp in just a few weeks, but he knows spending more time in Syracuse is possible. Whatever the Nationals choose to do with him, he says, is okay with him. 

“They’re my boss so I gotta do what they tell me to do. At the end of the day I follow directions. I am going to go in there and compete for a job, whether it is starting or relieving, and do the best I can,” he said. 

“Whatever happens, happens. Those are the kind of things I can’t control, I just worry about the things that I can control.”

Garcia found success with the Nationals last September holding a 2.13 ERA through 13 relief appearances. He was even able to make it into two postseason games. The 2004 3rd round pick finally got his chance in the majors after years in the minors and two Tommy John surgeries.

This offseason afforded Garcia an opportunity to focus on other things besides simply rehabbing his way back from injury, a change he welcomes.

“It’s different for the fact that I don’t have to rehab anything. It is the one time I can focus on just getting stronger and getting my body ready for 162 games instead of always having to rehab the elbow. I got to for the first time put 100 percent towards just getting stronger.”

Garcia’s road to the majors was long and arduous, coming back against the odds from two major elbow surgeries. Last season he also had to work his way through almost the entire Nationals’ system before finally getting the chance he had waited for since being drafted.

“I started off in Double-A which, I don’t think a lot of people would be happy at my age, but you gotta start somewhere. It’s all about where you finish, not where you start,” he said. 

“I always believed that I could do it, but when it actually happened it was pretty cool.”

Garcia made it to the majors and ended up contributing on a division-winning MLB team. It was an experience he worked hard for and appreciates, but now after getting that brief introduction he wants more.

“I would definitely say it’s a more fun offseason for the fact that I got to have an experience, I got a taste of it, I got to know what it feels like. Being in the playoffs and falling short makes you want it more,” he said. 

“It gives you that extra drive that you want to keep going. It was fun for the fact that now I know next year, starting with this Spring Training, I will have an opportunity to have a job. It is my first time ever going into a Spring Training with an opportunity to compete.”

Wherever Garcia begins 2013, at Syracuse or in Washington, and whether he begins as a starter or reliever, chances are that role will change. The Nationals were fortunate last season to avoid major injuries to their starting staff, but that was unusual. If someone goes down, he could be the next man up. 2013 could very well play out like it did for 2012 for Garcia, where he starts may not be the same as where he finishes.