Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Making sense of Freddy Garcia's Eddie Harris act

It's hard not to root for a guy like Freddy Garcia.

Everyone loves the underdog, and besides, when you have a stellar old-time baseball nickname like The Chief, you'll always get some extra rope in my book.

He's also a big reason the Yankees have hung around first place for so long this season. Six of his 10 starts have been of the quality variety, the type of percentage that's acceptable when you're talking about a back-of-the-rotation guy.

But while Bartolo Colon's re-emergence can be traced back to a (doctor-aided) revitalization of his stuff, and Ivan Nova's high points can be pointed to the benefits of a live arm with promise, Garcia's success is almost entirely indebted to the two things that all pitchers come to rely on when their abilities dim to a flicker.

Smoke and mirrors.

He doesn't throw hard. His breaking balls don't have much snap. Garcia pitches to contact and hopes for the best. He's essentially Eddie Harris from Major League without the vat's-worth of vasoline slathered across his chest.

As he walks off the mound after a strong outing, you can't help but wonder if players in the opposite dugout say to themselves, "Did we really just let him get away with that crap?" I imagine they feel the way I do in a family wiffleball game when I pop up a meatball thrown by an overmatched cousin on jack and coke No. 6.

(Remember that no matter what problems I perceive Garcia to be facing, I'm the 31-year-old dude making candidly serious wiffleball analogies.)

Watching his start yesterday against the Red Sox, you knew almost immediately that Garcia's night would be a short one (if you didn't count Jacoby Ellsbury's tee shot into the right-center field seats as conclusive enough evidence). Garcia was throwing slop, the ball more desperate for contact than a pimply-faced teenager at junior prom.

When Joe Girardi lifted Garcia with the bases loaded in the second, it seemed like an act of compassion facilitated by the ERA Gods. Garcia's stuff was so monumentally crappy I remarked on Twitter how Luis Ayala's first pitch to Kevin Youkilis looked Pedro '99 filthy. Luis Ayala, people!

Such is the state of the Yankees' rotation in 2011. Band-aids, spit, gauze, and the hope that by 4 p.m. ET July 31 it will all be fine.

Garcia won't lose his spot in the rotation after Tuesday's wipeout, and nor should he. Replacement options at the minor league level are limited anyway, unless Carlos Silva's bloated corpse or an unproven farmhand does something for you. This is more like a cross-your-fingers-and-hope-for-the-best scenario.

Freddy Garcia is no longer a very good pitcher. How long the Yankees can hide that reality will go a long way in determining how long they can remain relevant in the AL East.

Dan Hanzus can be reached at or on Twitter @danhanzus.

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