Garcia's arrival: Drumroll, please


Posted: April 02, 2007

CLEARWATER, Fla. - When Jimmy Rollins made waves by declaring the Phillies the new team to beat in the National League East, his manager, Charlie Manuel, wasn't surprised.

He figured his players would be chest-thumping, despite the lack of much hoopla, when the Phillies got Freddy Garcia from the White Sox on Dec. 6 for stagnated pitching prospect Gavin Floyd and promising lefty Gio Gonzalez.

Philly media outlets went bonkers . . . but not about the team nabbing its most accomplished starter since Curt Schilling.

The departure of Floyd, the fourth overall pick in the 2001 draft, overshadowed the other components of the deal, mainly because Floyd was an unmitigated disappointment. Gonzalez served as a solid second story line, since he was a vestige of the 2005 deal that sent franchise first baseman Jim Thome to the Sox.

Incredibly, the arrival of Garcia in Philadelphia lacked much punch . . . that is, until Garcia's new teammates gave voice to the reality that the long-sought, top-flight successor to Schilling had arrived.

Then Rollins began his "We're No. 1" campaign.

The tandem of Brett Myers and Cole Hamels might be ascending but Garcia, 30, is more accomplished. And, with no disrespect meant to the former would-be No. 1s - Andy Ashby, Kevin Millwood and Eric Milton - who turned out to be less than No. 2s, Garcia is better than them, too.

"No doubt. It's not even close," Rollins said. "Brett has that profile, but he was homegrown. Freddy came in with the reputation. He has the field work that earned that reputation. And he has the [2005 World Series] ring, and the big games that he's pitched in, to back that up."

So, yes, Rollins was a bit incredulous that the addition of Garcia caused little impact. So was his boss.

"I was surprised, because he's a big-name pitcher, and that's what we were looking for," said Manuel, whose starters were the worst in the National League through the trading deadline last season and third-worst at season's end. "But that's when Jimmy Rollins and some of our other players said, 'We know we have a chance to win.' With the media and the fans, it might have been underplayed. But it definitely had a big impact with the players."

With a little prodding, the defending NL East champion Mets bristled at Rollins' declaration. Indeed, Rollins seemed to have forgotten that the 2004 edition of the Phillies, which included Millwood, Milton, Thome and closer Billy Wagner, was the consensus favorite to represent the National League in the World Series.

Maybe Rollins knew something no one else did.

"I knew there were a couple of pieces missing. Bringing Freddy was a piece-and-a-half, to me," Rollins said. "One, for what he's going to bring in the win column. Two, for what he's going to bring in the experience column, and how he's going to be able to push [Myers and Hamels]. He's already the man. They want to be the man. Who's going to be the man? They'll look and say, 'He went seven innings. I want to go eight.' "

It might be a while before Garcia goes seven, or even six. A strained right biceps sidelined him the latter part of spring training and he is opening the season on the disabled list.

When Garcia does return to full strength, he'll be expected to resume his Ironman role. While compiling a 116-71 record in his 8-year career, he has averaged nearly 183 innings pitched per season.

He will not be asked to be the ace - not that that is such a bad thing, said Jamie Moyer, Garcia's stablemate for 5 1/2 seasons in Seattle.

"No disrespect to Freddy. I don't think he is an ace," Moyer said. "To expand on that, to me, a No. 1 starter is a guy who - say you've lost four in a row - he can stop a losing streak. Freddy can do that. Can he do it all year long? Maybe not.

"The other side to that is, how many legitimate No. 1 starters are there out there? You know and I know, I never was. To me, you're talking about very few, all time.

"A Bob Gibson. Dwight Gooden. Tom Seaver. Roger Clemens. A Roy Halladay, when he's healthy. A Johan Santana.

"Look at our rotation. If Freddy's not a No. 1, he's a No. 2. We have Brett, who hasn't blossomed to a No. 1, but he's a No. 2. We have Cole. Again, [he] potentially could be a No. 1. For me, give me one No. 1 or three No. 2s? I'll take the three No. 2s. You're going to get more out of the three twos than the one one."

The Phillies hoped Floyd would be at least a No. 2, though, after his horrific displays in 2005 and 2006, they decided he was damaged goods in their organization.

"I think it was a hell of a deal," said Charlie Kerfeld, the Phillies' new pro scout. "[The press] was pretty concerned with what we sent over there [to the White Sox]. You've got one kid [Floyd], who probably needs to be somewhere else, hear other voices for a while. You've got another one [Gonzalez] who might be a good major league pitcher one day. We think we can win now. So we went and got a guy that's a horse."

When Kerfeld heard that assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle had sealed the deal, his heart leaped, especially since the Phillies finished just three games out of the NL wild-card race last season.

"My reaction was, 'Now we have a real chance to win the National League East,' " Kerfeld said. "I think if he'd been in this rotation last year, this club would have been playing in October."

The knock on Garcia has been the fact that, despite his often devastating stuff, he hasn't become the next Schilling or Clemens possibly because he lacks their focus. Poppycock, say Kerfeld and Garcia.

"A lot of people read Freddy wrong. He's a body-language guy. He walks around [nonchalantly]. To me, it's all about results. Look at his record. Look at his ERA," said Kerfeld, a former American League pro scout. "I've seen Freddy the last 4, 5 years. He's pretty damn close to being one of the top guys out there."

In a rare - and somewhat provoked - moment of self-promotion, Garcia agreed.

"I cannot go pitch and worry about people looking at me, how I look,'' he said. "I don't care what people think. I do my job. It's how I am. What can I do? I care. That's why I'm here. I think I'm good, personally."

He had pulled out a chair in the middle of the clubhouse but paused before he plunked down into it, warming to the subject of his worth.

"I've got my numbers. For 8 years. Find 10 guys who pitched better than me the past 8 years. How many guys can you find? Five? Six? And how many are pitching right now? Two? Three?"

He makes a good point. Factor in youth, durability and effectiveness and the value of a commodity such as Garcia places him a cut below the absolute best, such as the Twins' Santana, the Cardinals' Chris Carpenter, the Astros' Roy Oswalt and Barry Zito, who broke the Giants' bank in the offseason.

Then again, unlike that quartet, Garcia hasn't sniffed Cy Young Award consideration since 2001.

Really, while they are delighted to have Garcia, the Phillies have no illusions about what he is. Gone, perhaps forever, are his days of throwing 95 mph.

"Freddy's probably going to throw 88 to 91," said general manager Pat Gillick. "But he gets his breaking stuff over a lot better now, and has a good changeup."

Kerfeld said Garcia always has been a slow starter. Added pitching coach Rich Dubee, "I think his velocity will increase like everybody's increases. I don't think you'll see his true velocity, or anybody's, until May."

Until then, Dubee hopes that Garcia does what he normally does. He's 19-9 in 42 April starts, by far the best April winning percentage among Phillies starters.

"I think he's a proven winner," Dubee said. But a No. 1? "No. Not me."

"I don't care," said Manuel, who has Myers slated to pitch in the No. 1 slot. "He makes 35 starts, gives us 200 innings, how good he is speaks for itself."

If Garcia's sore bicep acts up, as it is likely to, he probably won't hit those numbers unless the Phillies reach the postseason for the first time since 1993. Garcia's postseason showings, in which he has crafted a 6-2 record, have the Phillies as excited as his usual durability.

"You're getting a guy who won 17 games and pitched very effectively in the World Series," Gillick said. "That's a real plus for us."

He's also pitching in a contract year. He'll make $10 million this season, then, more than likely, he will test free agency and break the bank - especially if he hits his goals.

"I'll be a free agent. I think I need to do better than I have," said Garcia, who has yet to have a 20-win season. "I want to win 20. Have an ERA under four [career 4.01]. And pitch 200 innings - like a normal year."

What strikes you most when you see Garcia is his size. He's a solid 6-4, 250 pounds. The two biggest organisms in the Phillies' organization love that.

"He's a horse. He's a horse. It's a big deal," said big Dallas Green, the former pitcher who managed the Phillies to their sole title. He loves that Garcia has seen the eighth inning 32 times since 2004. "He pitches into the eighth and ninth inning an awful lot of the time. Charlie really had a struggle last year because our starting pitching was so messed up. The guys we counted on to get us through the sixth inning couldn't even do that."

Kerfeld, another huge man and also a former pitcher, thinks Garcia is a prototype.

"When you look at a pitcher, you look at his build," Kerfeld said. "His is a perfect build for a pitcher."

It has served Garcia well. Through last season, he'd never missed a start due to arm trouble. It took a fractured right tibia in 2000 to keep him down for a dozen starts.

"I've never missed a start. Maybe I'm lucky," he said, smiling, implying that maybe he's tough, too. "Some guys, they've got a little arm pain, they miss time. I'm not that kind of guy. Whatever I have that day, I'll pitch. If I have my best stuff, I have it. If not, I'll find a way to pitch."

With free agency looming and 20 wins a possibility given the Phillies' lineup, Garcia's main goal remains constant:

"Make the playoffs. That's why they brought me here. To help the rotation. Last 2 years, they've been very close. Maybe they need one more starter. Maybe winning 12 or 16 more games - if they have 10 more wins last year, they make the playoffs."

And if he doesn't get the headlines? "I never think that way," Garcia said.

Good thing. *

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