Dodgers: Yimi Garcia’s Spring Dominance Beacon of Hope

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 16: Yimi Garcia
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 16: Yimi Garcia /

Yimi Garcia toed the rubber, wound up, threw the ball and changed his career forever.

It was his elbow. Particularly his ulnar collateral ligament and ultimately the injury that put him in a hospital gown, left him with stitches just above the right elbow and a layoff from the game that moved him out of the Dominican Republic as a teenager.

It was Tommy John surgery but it was so much more. Garcia had been through this before. Tommy John was just a reoccurring nightmare.

During the 2016 season, Garcia threw a pitch that left him out for months with a right bicep injury. It was a straw but it was yet to break the camel’s back.

The bicep ordeal came to an end in July of 2016. Garcia would spend the next few months rehabbing but they were months spent on a mound and at the time, the reliever in his mid-20’s could not ask for anything more.

Just after the rehab ended it would only cycle back to start again. The Tommy John surgery was ready to take its turn with Garcia, a pitcher who had done nothing but try and contribute for years.

Like the bicep injury, it would bend but not break the Dodger reliever. He would come back from Tommy John and like the previous injury, be left competing for a roster spot.

As 2018 rolled along, Garcia’s roster status was as uncertain as the weather.

He would spend time in triple-A, time on an airplane and 25 games of lackluster pitching in the major leagues. That season also burned his third and final year of the ability to be sent down.

In a way, it was a reward for the struggle. Garcia, a pitcher that had done nothing but work, get hurt and subsequently try even harder to get back to stardom, would leave his team with no choice but to keep him on the 2019 roster.

On the other hand, Garcia’s lack of roster flexibility would make the spring of 2019 a ‘prove it’ set of games. Now more than ever, Yimi Garcia would need to show the Dodgers that he was worth their time. To this point, he has done that.

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Garcia was almost certainly aware of what this spring meant for him. There was really no way to dilute the importance of utterly breathtaking performances.

Last season, Garcia pitched with to the tune of a 5.64 ERA and an ERA+ of just 70.

Now, this could easily have been the regrowth period of entering major league baseball for the first time in two years. It’s like a culture shock. Garcia was electrocuted by that measure.

But, dive deeper into the numbers and you’ll notice that Garcia simplified what he was throwing on the mound in terms of repertoire. Prior to 2018, Garcia mixed a four-seam fastball, curveball, slider and a changeup. It was a pretty typical four-pitch mix spread and distribution and it was working.

From 2014-’16, Garcia had a combined ERA+ of 120 a number that checks in the top 25 percent of pitchers with at least 70 innings pitched from 2014-’16 in terms of ERA+.

In 2018, however, Garcia cut his pitch mix in half. He sported a slider and fastball only and despite a slight uptick in velocity, it did nothing to further his success on the mound. It only hurt him.

For Garcia, the key to sustainable success is to simply trust his stuff. All of it. His fastball ranks in the 98th percentile of major league baseball in spin rate and in the 75th percentile in velocity. His curveball and slider place in the 87th percentile and by those measures Garcia has the stuff to seriously excel in the big leagues.

So, as spring has sprung, as Josh Fields is officially off the roster and as Garcia continues to impress in spring camp. His roster spot might not be a dreaded appearance, rather, some hope for a pitcher that has taken the scenic route to success.

Sure, he has to be on the roster or designated for assignment but as he takes the mound each time under the warm spring sun of Arizona, Garcia has been different. He has refound his mix and he has been effective.

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So, in 2019 the Dodgers may have that reliever they invested in from the Dominican Republic so long ago. Garcia, the camel of his own baseball fate has taken on plenty of straws. Tommy John, a bicep injury and trips to the minors out the ears. None of the straws, however, have broken the camel’s back and Garcia is surely proving it.