Yankees manager Joe Girardi has seen pitchers’ arms go dead before. But he said it usually happens in spring training. Freddy Garcia’s arm waited until the first month of the season to conk out on him.
“I was feeling good in spring training,” Garcia said. “The season starts and something happened. It’s crazy.”
He couldn’t explain where the miles per hour on his fastball went.
“You feel like you have nothing,” he said. “You just go out there and try to make it happen. You don’t feel strong, nothing. It’s crazy, but it happens.”
It couldn’t have been more evident than on April 21, the last time he was on the mound at Fenway Park before Saturday’s start against the Red Sox.
In that prior start, his fastball barely got to 88 m.p.h., coughing and wheezing the whole way there. The pitch is an important part of his arsenal, setting up his offspeed pitches, so when something is wrong with it, something is wrong with everything.
He didn’t make it out of the second inning that day, giving up five runs on seven hits, and even though the Yankees rallied to a 15-9 win by scoring 14 runs in the seventh and eighth innings, Garcia was demoted to the bullpen, where he stayed for two months.
If Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia weren’t both injured, he might still be there.
But with a chance to start again Saturday, his arm came back from the dead.
Garcia went 6⅔ innings in the Yankees’ 6-1 win over the Red Sox, holding Boston hitless over the first 3⅓. It was his longest start in nearly a year, when he went 7⅔ innings against the Mariners last July 25.
“I saw signs that he would throw better,” Girardi said. “And Freddy, he was like, ‘I’m going to get back.’ He was committed to getting back, and he did it.”
The Yankees offense gave him enough cushion to operate, putting up four runs in the first, and from there Garcia cruised.
“You got the lead early, four or five runs, you just got to go out there and shut it down and that’s what I did,” Garcia said.
He improved his record against the Red Sox to 10-4 in 23 appearances, washing away the April outing that marked his lowest point of the season.
“I’m not thinking about it,” he said. “That happened in April. We’re in July. I had a bad day.’’
He earned his first win of the season as a starter, matched a season high with five strikeouts, and lived in the high-80s on the radar gun all afternoon.
“He’s got different offspeed pitches that he can use and he uses his fastball to set them up,” Girardi said. “He was up to 90 today and he can spot his fastball and he can move it around. But he’s got a curveball, a slider, a split, a change, and he can go to the ones that are working, and whether a guy’s weaker on one or the other, he knows how to exploit it.”
Whether it was Ryan Kalish taking a fastball out of the zone, then striking out staring at a slider the very next pitch in the second inning,or Kelly Shoppach passing on the fastball then waving at a slider in the third, Garcia had the Sox off-balance because of his fastball.
“He never threw fastballs in fastball counts,” Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said.
The velocity meant everything.
“It makes my other pitches better,” Garcia said. “My slider, my changeup, everything is better because I have more velocity.”
He never looked at himself as a bullpen guy, and as Garcia made 10 appearances out of the pen he used the time to search for his pop.
“It was good for me,” he said. “I was there doing my stuff, ready for every game. I would long toss and do my stuff and that’s why I feel good now . . . I started throwing four, five times a week long toss and I got my speed back.”