What Detroit Tigers' Rule 5 draft pick Rony Garcia showed in his 'fantastic' debut
Rony Garcia made a mess in his major league debut for the Detroit Tigers.
Amid a double-play scenario to end the third inning unscathed, a sharp liner bounced off first baseman C.J. Cron's leg and back toward the mound. The right-hander raced to pick it up, turned erratically and fired the ball in the same direction it came from.
He wishes he would have held onto it. The result: two errors and runners on second and third for Whit Merrifield, a true Tiger killer who entered Tuesday with eight career home runs at Comerica Park.
The Rule 5 pick from this offseason marched back to the rubber, took off his Old English D hat and looked to veteran catcher Austin Romine.
Garcia nodded, then invited Merrifield to enter the batter's box.
"I just removed my cap to take a little breath and calm myself down," Garcia said through interpreter Carlos Guillen. "I received some fresh air to keep executing my pitches and doing my best on the field."
Just when the situation couldn't seem to get any worse, it did. He left a 93 mph fastball hanging up in the zone, and Merrifield didn't miss: a 366-foot three-run homer to left-center field.
He didn't lose focus. He battled back with a five-pitch strikeout of Jorge Soler, ending on the same 93 mph fastball (this time, low and away), and a whiff of Adalberto Mondesi on a slider to conclude the inning without further damage.
Not bad for a 22-year-old who had never pitched above Double-A.
Outside of his throwing error and Merrifield's home run, Garcia dominated in his three innings to open the game, allowing three hits and striking out three. On Monday night, he learned he'd be the starter after probable pitcher Dario Agrazal went to the 10-day disabled list with a right forearm strain.
"If you just seen the kid smiling when he went out to make his first major league start, that was precious enough," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. "And then he got out on the mound and went right at them. We ended up missing a play and costing some runs, but he was fantastic."
But Garcia wasn't smiling in warmups.
As veterans Miguel Cabera and Cameron Maybin shared a laugh out in left field during stretches, Garcia was about 30 yards behind them near the warning track. He looked ready for business throwing long toss. Entering the bullpen 20 minutes before first pitch, he later emerged to see his teammates waiting on him with elbow bumps for good luck.
That's when he grinned.
Garcia made quick work in the first inning, getting Merrifield to softly ground out to third base. Despite a single from Soler, he induced a double play against Mondesi for a 12-pitch frame. He went through the heart of Kansas City's order — Salvador Perez, Ryan O'Hearn and Maikel Franco — on nine pitches.
He mostly used his fastball and slider through his three innings, meaning he probably projects as a reliever for now. But during his debut, he showed why he can be an key piece to the Tigers' bullpen this year.
His highest level of baseball before Tuesday was 20 games with Double-A Trenton in 2019. He went 4-11 with a 4.44 ERA, 1.253 WHIP and a 104-to-38 strikeout-to-walk ratio across 105⅓ innings.
He might've let Merrifield take him deep, but outside of that mistake, he did exactly as he was told — by Gardenhire and Romine.
"I just let myself follow his lead," Garcia said. "He's a veteran, so I can follow his lead and put the pitches everywhere he wanted and all the kind of pitches he wanted me to throw."
One night following right-handed starter Michael Fulmer's struggles, and the bullpen giving up 10 more runs, the Tigers found success and improved to 3-2 this season because of their pitching staff — including Garcia, who got it all started.
"Obviously he can come in and chew some people up," Gardenhire said. "The ball jumps. I think he hides the ball, from what everybody tells me. You don't see it coming out because he kind of crosses over and, bam, does a rotation thing with his arm, a quick arm. There's something there, and we like it. That's why our guys went out and got him.
"Good start tonight. We'll fit him in, believe me. If you can get people out in the big leagues, we're looking for you."
Bullpen slams door
Aiming to protect a 4-3 lead entering the fourth inning, the Tigers' bullpen tossed six innings of scoreless baseball. Left-hander Tyler Alexander, who got the second win of his career, perfectly executed the piggyback role through the fourth and fifth innings. Jose Cisnero threw a clean sixth.
Where the Tigers seem to have found their greatest strength in the bullpen, however, is the backend. Buck Farmer is the setup man for closer Joe Jimenez, but left-hander Gregory Soto has become reliable in the seventh inning.
He touches 99 mph on his fastball and has a nasty slider, both of which helped him get O'Hearn and Alex Gordon to falter on strikeouts. None of the three pitchers — Soto, Farmer nor Jimenez — allowed a baserunner.
"I think the opposing team has no chance," Jimenez said. "From Soto to Buck to Cisnero to everybody. I mean, everybody (has) a little bit of something in the mix, so we're excited, and we're going to continue doing our job."
"Those are important guys to get it to Farmer and our closer, so this can be big," he said. "We have to, you know, not kill them. But we've got some people that we trust."