VIERA, Fla. - Nationals manager Davey Johnson gets why Christian Garcia might prefer to remain a reliever.
Johnson knows that after spending eight-plus years in the minor leagues, Garcia finally was able to make it to the bigs because he became a dominant late-inning guy out of the bullpen. The Nats skipper understands that if everything else was equal and Garcia had his pick of roles, he'd probably choose to remain a bullpen guy on the big league squad.
But Johnson also knows that Garcia has three plus pitches that might not be getting enough use in relief. And with the Nationals lacking starting pitching depth beyond the five proven guys in their rotation, the decision has been made to stretch Garcia out this spring, give him multiple-inning stints and see if he can replicate the success he had in the bullpen when pitching as a starter.
"He's got great stuff and I'd like to see more of him rather than just one inning," Johnson said of Garcia. "But on his side, just going out there and throwing one inning got him to the big leagues. So I understand where he comes from, too."
Even though the Nationals currently plan on stretching Garcia out, they admit that it's possible that he ends up returning to the bullpen. Johnson and general manager Mike Rizzo are keeping an open mind when it comes to Garcia, the two men willing to see how Garcia progresses this spring and adapts to multiple-inning stints.
And to his credit, Garcia, one of the friendliest, most welcoming guys you'll find in a big league clubhouse, says he's keeping an open mind, too.
"I've always been the type of person that whatever I can do to help the team, I'll do," Garcia says. "If that's what the need is, if the need is for starting pitching, then whatever the team needs. At the end of the day, I'm still playing baseball, and I'm pitching, so I can't complain."
Garcia has had a couple conversations with Johnson so far this spring, and the message from the skipper has just been that the Nats will give Garcia opportunities to work two and three innings at a time early on, all the while carefully monitoring his arm strength and stuff. After all, this is a guy who has been through two Tommy John surgeries since being drafted out of high school by the Yankees in 2004.
Some might wonder whether asking Garcia to eventually throw six- or seven-inning outings is the right move given his injury history. There's no way of knowing for sure, but there are those within the organization who feel that having Garcia pitch on a set schedule will benefit him and his arm, compared to the random nature of pitching out of the bullpen.
Garcia isn't about to question the Nats' dedication to his health now, not after they took a flier on him in 2011 following his second Tommy John and helped him work back to this point.
"They've done awesome with me, caring me along and treating me right, arm-wise," Garcia said. "They've done a great job and I'm very thankful. That's why I'm here now and willing to do whatever they need, because what they've done for me, a lot of organizations wouldn't have done. I'm very thankful for it."
So far in camp, Garcia has drawn rave reviews. Johnson loves his stuff and makeup, and those watching Garcia's bullpen sessions have been wowed by the right-hander's free and easy throwing motion.
If Garcia sticks as a starter, he'll be ticketed for the minor leagues yet again, barring an injury in spring to one of the Nationals' five set starting pitchers. But Garcia isn't looking at things that way. He's not worried about his role or where he'll end up, instead focusing on finding a way to be successful every time he takes the mound.
"They haven't told me anything about having to go down (to the minors)," Garcia said. "They've told me I'm competing up here and that's what's in my mind is to compete for the big leagues, not to compete for Triple-A. I'm up here trying to win a job. Whatever role it is, as long as it's playing baseball, I'm OK with it.
"I believe I can do it. I'm a very confident person, and I believe whatever I put my mind to, I can accomplish it. So I'm going to go in there, and if it's start, long relief, pitch one inning, I'm going to go in there and give it my best shot and do the best I can."
Refreshing attitude from a guy who has only had a brief taste of the major league life and so desperately wants some more.