Garcia ready to move on from “miserable” 2013, plus notes before first workout

VIERA, Fla. - Today is the first official day of workouts here at Nationals camp, with players taking the field at around 10 a.m. to begin stretching.

Doug Fister, Gio Gonzalez, Chris Young, Taylor Jordan, Ross Ohlendorf and new signee Josh Roenicke will throw bullpen sessions today.

A big group of players were crowding around the lone clubhouse TV this morning, watching the U.S.-Russia Olympic hockey game. Ross Detwiler (a huge hockey fan) and Tyler Clippard were sitting front and center, and a big cheer went out from those assembled in the area when defenseman Cam Fowler scored for Team USA to tie the game 1-1 in the second period.

Manager Matt Williams had to go and ruin the fun shortly after 9 a.m. by coming in for a team meeting. What a buzzkill.

As I mentioned the other day, Williams apparently will have a quote or a message written atop the daily schedule sheet each morning, something for the players to think about as they put in their work that day. I’ll pass along that quote each morning, to give you a little inside peak into what we see in the clubhouse every day.

Today’s message: “He who holds the ball controls the game.”

Ask Christian Garcia what it was like going through his 2013 season, which featured a lengthy absence early in the year due to a forearm strain and a subsequent trip to the disabled list with a hamstring strain, and you’ll get an immediate, one-word answer.

“Miserable,” Garcia said in the Nationals clubhouse yesterday.

Garcia was a key contributor to the Nationals bullpen in 2012, joining the team late in the regular season and pitching well enough to make the postseason roster for the National League Division Series. But Garcia, who had endured three elbow surgeries (including two Tommy Johns) earlier in his career, saw the injury bug bite again in 2013. And it bit hard.

The forearm strain popped up during Garcia’s very first bullpen session last spring. Then, once he was finally getting close to ending his rehab assignment after months rehabbing and building up arm strength, the hamstring strain appeared. Garcia noticed it the day after an appearance for Triple-A Syracuse, when he felt a shooting pain while walking up the stairs.

The combination of the two injuries essentially ruined his season and, in a way, totally removed him from the discussion of the promising relief arms in the organization.

“It was miserable, frustrating - you name it,” Garcia said. “I couldn’t control any of it, so I can’t dwell on it. That was last year, so I don’t think about it, and now I’m looking forward to 2014.”

Garcia was finally able to put the injuries behind him during the winter, when he punched up a 2.16 ERA with eight strikeouts and six walks in 8 1/3 innings for Naranjeros de Hermosillo of the Mexican Winter League.

“Every time I get hurt, I know I’m going to come back,” Garcia said. “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. So that was fun, knowing I could get out there and not get hurt.”

The Nationals toyed with the idea of using Garcia as a starter last spring, and while he isn’t exactly sure of the organization’s plans for him this time around, Garcia believes he’ll be back in a relief role.

The 28-year-old right-hander doesn’t seem to care too much either way. He just wants to be back on a field healthy and competing for a roster spot.

It seems like every time Garcia has gotten close to turning a corner in his career, injuries have pulled him back. But he’ll get a chance to battle for a spot in the Nats bullpen this spring, and if he can stay healthy and get back to the form he showcased late in 2012, sporting a mid-to-high 90s fastball, hard slider and biting changeup, Garcia has as good a shot as anyone.

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