It's fair to say that Christian Garcia's career in the Yankees organization ended two years ago, when he tore up his elbow on Opening Day at Waterfront Park. The outing was his first since recovering from Tommy John surgery. The procedure's efficacy lasted all of 5 2/3 innings before the arm popped again, require a second elbow reconstruction.
Shortly into his rehab, the Yankees released Garcia. And although they paid out the rest of his contract and footed the bill for his medical expenses, the right-hander was out of pro baseball for the first time in seven years.
So he waited until July, when he impressed the Nationals enough in a tryout to earn a contract and another shot at the big leagues. His first stop last year was Short Season Auburn, where he made 10 appearances before getting into a game with Syracuse toward the end of the year. All told, Garcia finished the year with a 3-1 record, a 2.66 ERA and 30 strikeouts against three walks in 20 1/3 innings out of the bullpen.
He's back in the Eastern League now, with the Harrisburg Senators, and the fastball is back up to the mid-90s. If he stays healthy, he might just get that spot in the show he looked on the way to earning before his elbow refused to cooperate two years ago.
The Senators came to Waterfront Park earlier this month, and the always affable Garcia took some time to talk to the media about the roads in his rear-view mirror and ahead of him.
Q: Was it a little humbling having start almost over again, even going back to Auburn last year?
A: Not at all. The injury in general was humbling. Having to start from scratch from a 2006 injury and a third elbow surgery and rehabbing for (another) year after just rehabbing in 2009 for a whole year, that kind of put everything in perspective.
Q: Were you surprised the Yankees let you go?
A: A little, yes and no. You can't expect them to hold onto me -- this is a business -- you can't expect them to hold onto me after what was a 16-month rehab. You can't expect them to hold onto me.
Q: Any thought of quitting ever cross your mind through all the frustration?
A: Not at all. Right when it happened I was down, depressed for, maybe, five hours. Then I went right into positiveness and said 'Let's get this done and get my rehabbing process back.'
Q: If I remember correctly you were even hitting fungoes during infield the next day.
A: You've got to get it out of your mind. There's a lot of people going through a lot of worse things than I'm going through. I get injured and it can be fixed. Some people can't be fixed, so you've got to look at life in general and see that a lot of other people are going through a lot of worse things than I am.
Q: In the back of your mind, are you thinking that it could happen again?
A: No, not at all. You can't play like that. You've got to give it 110 percent and go out there and believe that nothing's ever going to happen again.
Q: Have you changed anything in your regiment to make sure you stay healthy?
A: I've worked out harder than I ever have in my life this year with my legs and stuff like that, but no, arm-wise, everything's the same.
Q: The odds of that happening a second time are slim. It happens, but not often. Were you surprised that it happened again?
A: I thought it was something that couldn't happen again. And so when it happened, I was like, 'Wow, how could something that they just fix happen again?'
Q: Was there any explanation given as to how?
A: The just said the torque in my arm (caused it). It's a fluke. Sometimes it just doesn't catch well, and it takes two times to catch well.
Q: Did you ever talk to Dave Eiland about that? He's a two-time Tommy John patient.
A: I talked to Dave a little bit. He was with the Rays, and I worked out for the Rays, and he got me the workout, so I talked to him a little bit about it. But Dave never really rehabbed it back (the second time), so I really kept in touch with (former Phillies farmhand Scott) Mathieson.
I stayed in contact with him and he helped me through it, told me the up and downs, and when I was feeling something, things like that. I got a lot of advice from him.
Q: How many teams did you try out for?
A: I tried out for about six, I think it was.
Q: Where were the Nats in the tryout order?
A: They were, like, the fifth one. I got offers from other teams, but I just thought this one was the good fit because the only other offers were for me to sign something saying that if I got hurt I'm on my own. This was the only team that was loyal and said 'We're with you all the way. If you get hurt, we've got you." So that meant a lot to me.
Q: Did the Yankees call again?
A: No. They never called.
Q: Did that surprise you? In the last few years the Yankees signed a lot of pitchers with history of injuries or who were actually injured at the time.
A: Yeah, I was very surprised, but there's nothing I can do about that. I can't control that. I loved it there for the seven or eight years I was there, I loved every moment of it. I think they really gave me a good base and really made me the man I am today. I had a lot of growing up to do, and they really helped me out with that. They were a great organization and I have no regrets, no negative toward them at all. Maybe one day further down in my career I'll rejoin the team.
Q: Before the tryouts, was there a fear that nobody would want to take a chance on you?
A: There was. A tryout wasn't anything. I'd tryout, I'd felt like I threw well, they'd call back and say, "Hey, nobody really wanted to take the chance.' Really, the Nationals were the only people that wanted to go full bore, all the way in.
Q: When did that process of trying out start?
A: July of 2011.
Q: Ken Mandel, who interviewed you yesterday, said that you were throwing high-80s during that tryout for the Nationals.
A: Mid-80s. First, my agent called me about three weeks before my workouts and said 'Hey, can you get a gun and see how fast you're throwing? Scouts are calling and I'm trying to get you a job and they're asking how hard you're throwing. I need you to get, at least, to 90 miles per hour,' and so I said yeah.
He asked, 'Do you believe you're throwing that hard?' and I felt like I was. I went out to a local high school there in Tampa. They got the gun on me and I was 84 to 86. That was awful. It crushed me. I looked at like, these next three weeks, even though it's not just three weeks I worked hard, it was 16 months of really getting after it.
I said, 'These next three weeks I'm just going to keep doing what I've been doing, and if it doesn't work out, then it wasn't meant to be, but I'm going to look back and say I wish I would've done this and I wish I would've done that,' because I don't want to live with any regrets. So I just kept working instead of getting down on myself, so when I went to my first workout I was 90-92.
Q: So is relieving a full-time thing for you now, or are you working your way back to being a starter?
A: I'm a full-time reliever.
Q: What's different for you now?
A: Big difference. It's 20 pitches now instead of 100. (laughs from all) I have the same mentality as I do when I start. I try to stay fluid, pound the zone and change speeds.
Q: Is there a difference in the stress it puts on your arm?
A: So far, since I have no pain, I'd say less. I can't say if I went back a couple of years ago when I was hear, if I'd gone to the bullpen, that it would have worked. I couldn't say that. I think it's just that my arm's fixed better. This time around it just caught better, the ligament, and it's just not stressful at all. I threw yesterday and I can pitch again today easily.