Monday, Aug. 16, 2010
By Brett Ballantini
CHICAGO It was just five days ago that Freddy Garcia sat languidly in his clubhouse chair, ice on his shoulder and in his veins.
I dont care about doubters, he said, citing some slightly fuzzy math of just three of 22 poor starts on the season (actually, four of 21). I believe in myself.
Thats good, because not a lot of fans do at the moment. As Garcia labors through his two historically worst months (July and August, home of his two ugliest single-month ERAs and the only two months he owns a career record below .500), the pitchforks and torches are coming out.
One of the mob members is a favorite Chicken Little of White Sox baseball, a newspaper expert who today evoked the names of Gio Gonzalez, Clayton Richard and even John Ely (!) as fifth-starter solutions, sigh, if only. (My my, if sweet-swinging Chris Carter, a former White Sox farmhand swapped for Carlos Quentin who the same critic tirelessly bemoaned the loss of, ever gets a major-league hit, prepare the full-on Schadenfreudemania.)
Well, hey, theres no doubt that Garcias recent performances are a cause for concern. But even updating the numbers to include yesterdays five runs in five innings, Garcias sentiment last week was right, as he shushed his doubters by pointing to his low percentage of games he had no chance in: Its not that bad.
Five blowouts in 22 starts are the cold, hard facts. And for a fifth starter, thats an endorsement of, not an argument against, Garcias value. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has consistently admitted pure shock over how well Garcia pitched all season and insists that a fifth starter is doing his job by simply giving his team innings. And as usual, Ozzies right.
All the scuttlebutt implies that Garcia has been an unsteady influence in the White Sox rotation. Thats far from the case. Believe it or not, Garcias percentage of quality starts (.682) has not only been terrific in his second stint with the White Sox, it has been superior to his QS percentage on his first go-around (.549). That quality start percentage is second only to John Danks among White Sox starters, and just barelyDanks, esteemed as a breakout ace this season, sports just one more quality start than Garcia and a .696 QS percentage overall.
Unfortunately, as the second-oldest player and oldest pitcher on the White Sox, Garcias fall-off has been reminiscent of many veterans in the Chicago clubhouse. J.J. Putz scuffled over the weekend, while Andruw Jones misplayed consecutive flyballs to pave the way for the Detroit Tigers comeback on Sunday. Paul Konerko has cooled, Omar Vizquel seems a step slow and A.J. Pierzynski and Mark Kotsay have done little of late to reverse season-long slumps.
No doubt, Garcias giveaway effort in Sundays series finale vs. the Tigers, allowing five runs and eight hits in a laborious five innings, dug a hole for the White Sox they could only briefly rise out of before, as is customary in Garcias starts, the bullpen failed late and lost the game.
I pitched better today. I felt really good out there, Garcia said after Sunday's start vs. Detroit, pointing to situations in nearly every inning in which he narrowly avoided escaping damage. I feel bad. I should have gone one more inning to spare the bullpen.
Another thing thats too easily overlooked about Garcia is his capacity for leadership. Unlike Konerko, whose captaincy is unquestioned and his calm rarely dismissed as dispassion, Garcia is viewed not only as expendable on the field, but when preaching calm, hes viewed a bit like a beach-bum goofball.
Why? Perhaps its a language barrier, as the veteran is a native Spanish speaker who employs English deliberately, though with unflinching honesty. Perhaps as a player who wasnt being counted on coming into the season, Garcia cant help but be viewed as ancillary to the real team on the field.
But dont dismiss the significance of Garcia. Hes leaned on by Guillen as a veteran the manager can trust, one who wont fail to be straight with him and give 100 percent on the field. By extension, Garcia can play a primary leadership role among the significant Latino segment of the team. He may not be the Venezuelan Konerko, but Garcias significance on and off the field should not be disregarded, particularly among younger players like Sergio Santos, Alexei Ramirez, and even Alex Rios.
Were very positive, Garcia insisted Sunday, even in light of the sheer horror of the game. Thats exactly the sort of thing Konerko would and has said, through the ups and downs of the season. Garcia is just less frequently queried.
And in the same session, Garcia also was willing to go farther than any other White Sox playerperhaps too far, evenin describing what awaits the Sox in the Series of the Season up in the Great White North.
Weve got to get in a groove and play better vs. Minnesota, he said. We have to play almost perfect to beat them. They make smart plays.
Along with many candidates, Garcia is an unsung MVP of this contending White Sox club. And dont be too quick to dismiss the role hell play in eight or nine starts down the stretch.
Por que? Try this on: Garcia is at his best in the stretch, going 28-11 with a 3.28 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in his career September and October starts, his best marks of any month.
Wonder what the Chicken Littles will do with that.
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.coms White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information.