12:12 pm Aug. 7, 2012
Freddy Garcia matters again to the New York Yankees.
Way back in 2011, Garcia, signed to a one-year, $1.5 million contract, wasn't expected to be much of a factor in the New York rotation. But injuries and disappointmenting performances led to Garcia starting 25 games for the Yankees, and his 120 E.R.A.+ was second-best among Yankee starters, trailing only CC Sabathia. For a then 34-year-old journeyman who had battled injuries for years, this was unexpected success.
Though the Yankees brought him back in 2012, it was far from clear how Garcia would matter to a 2012 team with a projected starting five of Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte, along with David Phelps ready to step in as needed.
Even once Pineda was lost for the year, the Yankees still had more starters than slots. And once Garcia began 2012 by struggling mightily, pitching to a 12.51 E.R.A. over four April starts as Pettitte prepared to return, it appeared that he'd be banished to the bullpen, never to return, an extra car covered in blue tarp in the garage.
But since then, the Yankees have come to rely on Garcia again.
Concurrent injuries to Sabathia and Pettitte last month created an immediate rotation need, and Phelps had been working out of the bullpen by then, meaning he wasn't stretched out. Garcia quickly transitioned back from relief work, and pitched into the sixth inning against Tampa Bay on July 2.
In seven starts since, he's pitched to a 3.95 E.R.A., striking out nearly seven hitters per nine innings and walking fewer than three per nine. In short, he's been roughly the same pitcher who became New York's second-best starter last year.
There's little chance of that coming to pass again this year. Though he struggled in his most recent start, Ivan Nova has been solid for the Yankees, with an improved strikeout rate suggesting that he's around to stay. Phil Hughes has pitched like a frontline starter for months, with a 3.24 E.R.A. since May 6. Hiroki Kuroda has been even better. And Sabathia is still Sabathia.
But Andy Pettitte, due back in September, is 40 and returning from a broken fibula. Any setback could end his season. Moreover, Phelps has been pitching out of the bullpen for three weeks, and the Yankees could be reluctant to shift his role again before the end of the season, particularly because he's been so effective in relief.
So there's every reason to believe you'll be seeing Freddy Garcia as a regular in the rotation for the rest of the year. Just one injury or slump, and Garcia could be in the mix to even start a playoff game.
Either way, Garcia is once again providing unexpected success to a Yankee team that didn't look like it needed him. He's been Brian Cashman's insurance policy two years running, and the Yankees are glad they paid the premium.