Bill Conlin | Phils may have misread Garcia's warranty

Posted: June 11, 2007

LARRY BOWA was the Don Rickles of bench jockeys, a relentless needler.

One of his best riffs was to climb all over an opposing infielder who had launched a feeble throw. "If it hurts, don't throw it," Bowa would holler in that shrill contralto.

Friday night during the excruciating second inning of Freddy Garcia's short night's journey

onto the DL, I found myself

muttering, "If it hurts, don't throw it."

If Garcia's final half-dozen pitches were painful to watch, imagine the pain of throwing them. No wonder the guy sweats out there like a Roman Empire galley slave in a Mediterranean Sea heat wave.

Freddy opened the season on the disabled list with what was pronounced as a strained right biceps. "Strained" has become the generic description attached to all Phillies pitching injuries this season. Brett Myers suffered a "strained" right shoulder on the pitch in Miami that put him on his first DL. "Fine tuning" is org-speak for "cortisone shot."

Garcia, scheduled for an obligatory MRI today, is suffering from a "strained" right shoulder, according to the official communiqué.

I attended his first rehab start for the Clearwater Threshers on a rainy night in early April. It was the Class A club's home opener, and I wondered if Garcia would still pitch after the start was delayed 2 hours, 4 minutes. Dickie Noles was one of the club officials monitoring what was scheduled to be a 45-pitch outing. "He's eager to go," Noles said.

What followed became the road opening for the smoke-and- mirrors act Freddy introduced when he came off the DL and faced the Mets April 17. Great Oz was not smokin'. He confounded the Dunedin Blue Jays with an array of offspeed stuff. His fastball topped out in the 86-88 range, a yard-and-a-half slower than the rocket fuel he once blew as a power arm in Seattle and Chicago, and a yard slower than even the diminished heat he threw for the White Sox early last season. His fastball top was optimistically reported to the Money Pit home office as 90 mph. I was sitting behind the guy with the radar gun for that reading, a waste fastball Freddy badly overthrew high above the zone - an eyewash pitch.

His raw opposition was no match for his guile. Garcia pitched into the fourth inning and left the scoreless outing with seven strikeouts.

It is hard for a pitcher to

reinvent himself with a sore arm, but Freddy has been giving it a gallant try. He has turned himself into a righthanded Jamie Moyer, a power pitcher turned painter. The only way he would score a final, big-zeroed, free-agent contract sitting at the end of his one-and-only Phillies

season would be to succeed as a finesse pitcher. And he would need numbers decent enough to seduce some panicky GM desperate for pitching. Isn't that how Freddy scammed his old Seattle boss, Pat Gillick?

All it takes to land, say, 3 more years at $6 million per year is a record tickling .500 and an ERA lower than his cap size. Six-inning pitchers are coin of a diminished realm. Garcia proved he could pitch without great velocity during his 17-victory 2006. His numbers made him appear like a startling top-of-the-rotation coup for Gillick. Freddy Garcia for a minor league flop and a minor league prospect would rank right there with Ed Wade's theft of Kevin Millwood for Triple A catcher Johnny Estrada.

To position himself for one more contract score, however, Garcia also had to avoid surgery and/or extended DL stays. Even the most reality-challenged GMs have an alarm threshold that triggers when words like "torn rotator cuff," "frayed labrum," and "ruptured ulnar tendon"

appear in their reports.

Maybe the Phillies' crack medical staff will find that whatever has turned Freddy Garcia into a wincing nibbler is no big deal and can be rectified by rest and rehab. Maybe . . .

Whatever the outcome, however, somebody in high Phillies places has some serious explaining to do about how $10 million was spent on a pitcher who

experienced a dramatic drop in velocity the second half of 2006 without setting off a caterwaul of alarms.

First, forget the self-serving, butt-saving statements from the Phillies' front office about how there was nothing in Garcia's "entry physical" to suggest anything wrong with his arm.

Garcia's "entry physical" did not include an MRI from shoulder to finger tips. For $10 million, don't you need to know

everything about an athlete?

That was dumb and it was wrong. It was organizationally

irresponsible at every level you want to address. It was like buying a Ferrari with a loud knock in its exotic engine. You mean you wouldn't demand to know the reason before writing the check?

After all the bad contracts that have limited the Phillies' lineup mobility, wouldn't Dave Montgomery, a graduate of Penn's prestigious Wharton School,

demand to know the arm health of a top-of-the-rotation pitcher before expending $10 million for his services?

The Garcia fiasco is on Pat Gillick, who predates pitch counts, MRIs, rotator cuffs and labrums. Gillick goes back to when Tommy John was a lefthander, not a surgical procedure.

But Freddy Garcia's 21st century miseries are squarely on the current proprietor of Damaged Goods Inc. Due diligence was not done. *

Send e-mail to

For recent columns, go to

comments powered by Disqus