Garcia glad to make it back to majors

TORONTO – Rico Garcia understood how much the numbers really mattered. A non-roster pitcher who missed a full year recovering from elbow surgery must get noticed for more than just returning to the mound. He has to push hard for the promotion.

The circumstances also worked in Garcia’s favor as he made it back to the majors Monday with the Orioles.

Keegan Akin didn’t join the team for the second portion of the road trip due to Canada’s restrictions on unvaccinated players. The rules allowed the Orioles to call up Garcia and, if they chose, send him back down without using an option or having to designate him for assignment in a 40-man move.

Garcia signed a minor league deal in November, posted a 1.93 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings for three affiliates and joined the taxi squad in Kansas City. The Orioles learned that he wasn’t just healthy again.

“Just going out there and attacking hitters, trying not to think about the elbow and the whole rehab process,” he said. “Just trust the process, trust the surgery, that everything in there is feeling good, and let things rip, just like before the surgery happened. That was the main focus.”

The first batter Garcia faced in the majors since 2020, Blue Jays outfielder Raimel Tapia, doubled on a ground ball into right field leading off the seventh inning. Cavan Biggio flied out, George Springer struck out on a 96 mph fastball and Bo Bichette popped up.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. ambushed Garcia leading off the eight, launching a first-pitch curveball into the second deck. The next three batters were retired, and Garcia’s night was done.

The Jays didn’t need to bat again in an 11-1 win.

“It was good. Good to be back," Garcia said. 

“Just being able to go out there and compete, that’s the only thing I can control. Just taking in the experience, just to be back. I thought I threw well. Vladdy got a hold of one, but besides that, I just tried to attack the hitters and tried to get ahead," he added. 

“It was cool seeing him out there,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “I know how hard he’s worked to get back. Just really made one bad pitch there to Guerrero, but I thought he had good stuff. I know he wasn’t happy with that pitch, but besides that, I thought he threw the ball well.”

Tommy John surgery isn’t baseball’s death sentence anymore, but it demands hard work and patience. Not every story is a success. Not every pitcher comes back the same or better.

To step on a major league mound again meant everything to Garcia.

“Just going to the field every day during the rehab process, just being able to do what I’ve got to do to get better every single day,” he said. “It was a tough experience, but I kept telling myself, ‘Things will be OK,’ and just having that mentality and surrounding myself with great guys, great staff, throughout the whole process really helped a lot.”

Garcia chose the Orioles based on the opportunities they provide. His agent, Matt Gaeta, also represents pitcher Spenser Watkins and knows first-hand how it works here.

There also were some familiar faces in the organization, typical of baseball’s small world and how paths intersect through the years. Garcia was friends with Dean Kremer, Tyler Nevin, Bryan Baker and Rylan Bannon. He got to know Jahmai Jones.

“I knew a bunch of guys who just love the game, to go out there and play as hard as you can,” he said.

It fit with Garcia’s “upbringing,” as he termed it. The 30th-round draft pick out of Division II Hawaii Pacific.

“It’s being able to go out there and just grind and enjoy the moment,” he said, “and being able to play the game we love with all of our effort.”

* The Orioles snapped their seven-game losing streak to the Blue Jays last night with a 6-5 win. Jorge López recorded a five-out save.

Austin Hays led off the fifth inning with a tie-breaking home run. He’s 30-for-99 (.303) in his last 25 games, with five doubles, five home runs and 23 RBIs.

Ryan Mountcastle hit his 10th career home run against the Blue Jays, his highest total versus any opponent.

Mountcastle also doubled twice for his second career game with three extra-base hits. He homered three times against Toronto on June 19, 2021 at Camden Yards.

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