Manager Davey Johnson said Monday he would consider Christian Garcia as a starter next season. Going up to Garcia and saying this, Johnson said the right-hander responded, "I'm good with being in the bullpen."
"Of course you are," Johnson laughed. "You are in the major leagues".
But Double-A Harrisburg pitching coach Paul Menhart, who worked with Garcia before he was promoted to Triple-A Syracuse, said Garcia can start because that is all he ever knew coming into this season.
"That is all he has ever done," Menhart said. "He used to be a starter. The double Tommy John just seemed to be an obvious route for him to learn how to relieve. Ideally, a healthy arm, he should be a starter. He has got three well above average pitches and to have that over seven, eight or nine innings as opposed to one or two would be especially beneficial for all involved."
Garcia made 50 starts from 2005 to 2010 in the Yankees farm system, a tour that included three surgeries, two for Tommy John ligament replacement. Back when Garcia signed, the Nationals had a pretty good handle on who would be there Double-A starters. So to be careful, the Nationals decided to bring him back as a reliever.
"With the double Tommy John, we wanted to make sure we were treating him intelligently, to make sure we didn't have a re-injury," Menhart said. "And now that he has a full season under him of relieving, it is a definite possibility that he could be a starter again."
With that in mind, and Garcia's log at 60 1/3 innings this year, the Nationals would prefer not to increase his workload more than 18 to 20 percent next season. That would mean 100 innings might be his cap for next season as a starter. This is assuming he pitches a 20 more innings with the Nationals this season, in the regular season and even a postseason run, if the Nationals choose to place him on the playoff roster.
Menhart was also very pleased with right-hander Ryan Perry's transition from reliever to starter, which Johnson said is the tougher way to go when you change a pitcher's responsibility.
"It was a storybook season, to be honest with you," Menhart said. "To have a guy who has never started, as opposed to Christian Garcia (who came in as a starter), and just embrace it, doing everything that it took to be successful, not just game-wise, but in between games. His work ethic, in my opinion, was unmatched by anyone I have ever had, especially a guy making the transition like this.
"He was all in from Day One."
But one issue that can always hurt relievers is when they have to face hitters two or three times in a game as a starter. Johnson spoke about his experiences with Eric Gagne, who began his career as a starter with the Dodgers. Because Gagne was just a two-pitch pitcher, Johnson was thinking of moving him to the bullpen. He could not go through with the transition because he was fired as manager before the 2001 season began.
Gagne became a reliever in 2002. With only those two pitches, Gagne was much more effective when hitters only got one chance to see him.
Perry, by comparison, was going the other way, from reliever to starter. Menhart said Perry was used to doing everything on his own when he would come out for an inning as a reliever.
Now he had to learn how to use all of his pitches over an entire game and prevent hitters keying on a pitch or placement he had used to get them out the first time through the order.
"That is the beauty of it," Menhart said of the learning process. "Early on, he was treating it like he was a reliever and running with what he had had success with in the past. That would be the cutter, or the sinker or whatever had worked before. He was really trying to manage his own at-bats."
"He learned to trust his catcher and to adjust to the different times these kids were coming up to the plate. And to have him go a nine-inning complete game in his sixth or seventh start, is just truly unbelievable."
Perry will be headed to the Arizona Fall League to test his new starting skill against the top prospects in the minor leagues. He went 2-4 with a 2.84 ERA in 13 starts for Harrisburg, striking out 46 in 73 innings.
With Garcia and Perry available next spring training 2013 as possible starter candidates, the Nationals might find a different way to bolster their starting corps with the departures through trade of Tommy Milone, Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole. It could also serve as depth at the position if Edwin Jackson does not re-sign.
For more on Garcia, check out Dan Kolko's story here.