Finding His Groove: Christian Garcia

Adjusting to full season ball isn't exactly the easiest move to make, especially for a 19 year old pitcher. But, after a month's worth of experience, Christian Garcia is finding his way in his first full season. We had a chance to chat with Christian about this in a exclusive.

In the Yankee farm system, there may not be a pitcher with more raw talent than Christian Garcia. Armed with an outstanding fastball and a knockout curveball, Garcia has it all to go along with all the confidence in the world. But, it is easy to forget how young and inexperienced he still is. All of these factors could contribute to a difficult transition to full season ball.

In his first few outings of the season here in 2005, the young righthander showed that no matter how talented you might be, the adjustment to full season ball isn't easy to say the least. However, the problem wasn't his stuff or that these more advanced hitters were just that, too advanced. According to Garcia, his early problems were self inflicted. "I was throwing like someone I wasn't," he explained. "I was trying to aim my fastball and spot it right on the black of the plate. I was doing that instead of reaching back and overpowering hitters like I know how." Not to mention, Garcia also sat out a period of time in spring training with a knot in his upper right portion of his back and shoulder blade area. So, he also believes that having that small portion of time out was a contributor to his slow start out of the gate. "My health was also an important thing as well," he commented.

So, with a young staff and raw arms like Christian Garcia, enter Steve Renko. It is fair to come to the conclusion that it is no accident that the experienced Renko was assigned to this staff. This was one of his first assignments, getting one of his star righthanders on track. "Well, he helps everyone differently according to what their flaws are, but for me he has helped me with my stride," the tall righthander told "Sometimes I tend to stride closed which makes me throw across my body. He has also taught me to be myself, with the attitude that I play with and not try to invent things and be someone I'm not. For example, I shouldn't be trying to aim balls and throw soft. My pitches should be exploding through the strike zone like the way I have been known to pitch." After a rough go of it in his first two starts of the season, sporting an ERA over 6 and getting over an illness, things were about to turn around for the curveball extraordinaire.

It was Sunday, April 24th that may have been the turning point in the season of Christian Garcia. Enough time has not passed to know for sure, but suddenly he is looking like the dominating pitcher we came to know when he pitched in the Gulf Coast League in 2004. But, the RiverDogs' righty knows there is certainly a difference between the two leagues. "The difference is if you go 2-0 on a hitter in the GCL, you can still groove a fastball and they will probably pop up or ground out," he explains. "But here in the South Atlantic League, they hit the ball hard either for a hit or a hard out in that situation. Another difference is if you make a mistake they are more likely going to make you pay for it." With that in mind, Garcia was ready to roll against the Greenville Bombers. He turned in his best outing of the season, going 5 innings on a low pitch count, surrendering only one run on 5 hits while walking only one and striking out four. And, the start after that was also a successful one. What does Christian contribute his turn around too since he has dropped his ERA over two runs in his last two outings? "My walks are down and so far I'm doing a lot better with that in the last few games," the confident righthander told us. "Now, I feel much more comfortable pitching in this league also."

In 2004, for the most part, the Yankees 3rd round draft pick was primarily a fastball, curveball type of pitcher. But, under the tutelage of some new coaches in spring training like Carlos Reyes, Steve Renko, and Gil Patterson, Garcia has developed a strong changeup that he can depend on as a third pitch. "It has helped me a lot, having a good changeup," Garcia says. "It just gives the hitters something else to think about and it makes my fastball look that much better. Pitching is all about disturbing timing and my changeup helps me to accomplish that."

To look at things from more of a person to person point of view rather than just looking at Garcia as a ballplayer, take into consideration the total adjustment of lifestyle for a 19 year old only year removed from high school. Not exactly so simple is it? "To me, the hardest adjustment to full season ball has been always picking up and going," the Miami native says. "We are always on the move and we are barely ever home here in Charleston it seems like. We are always traveling. So, that has probably been the most difficult adjustment." On the other hand, there has been one teammate that has helped Garcia keep this adjustment as smooth as possible. His name is Brett Smith, otherwise known as the big brother of Christian Garcia. "He is really like my big brother," Garcia says with great respect for his fellow staff member. "While I'm here, he looks out for me and he has also taught me a lot about pitching. He is really knowledgeable. I look up to him a lot and he's just a really unselfish player. Before he came around, I had Steven White and Danny Borrell, but Brett has taken over for them. I really have a lot of respect for him as a pitcher and as a person."

Obviously, with the help he's had simply from having a good head on his shoulders, and the people around him, Garcia is back on track for a great season. And, don't think this pitching prospect doesn't know the importance of the first full professional season. "It is very important because its your first time throwing over 100 innings and getting use to playing night games with fans and traveling," he said. "It is just all about getting accustomed to it." And, now that he appears to be over his first speed bump on his potential road to stardom, the hard throwing righty is saying you haven't seen anything yet. "I'm just getting warmed up and there is a lot better from me still to come," he says with confidence. "Its all about learning for me right now. I learn something new everyday. My long term goal is to pitch for the New York Yankees and the only one that can hold me back is myself. But I'm too mentally tough for that to happen and with the Lord on my side, there is no stopping me." Now that he has found his groove, there may truly be no stopping Christian Garcia.

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