LOS ANGELES -- At some point along his post-operative odyssey from Florida to Chicago, New York State to New York City, Baltimore to Georgia and points in between, Freddy Garcia thought about retirement. No longer capable of throwing in the 90s -- at times not even capable of consistently recording outs -- Garcia considered calling it a career.
But fueled by that old competitive desire, the 15-year veteran fought through, earning multiple pink slips and accepting various Minor League assignments along the way. Ultimately he found himself at Triple-A Gwinnett this summer, one quick stop from Atlanta.
Though Garcia did not pitch particularly well in the Minors, he earned a September callup as the Braves attempted to shore up their bullpen. Then Paul Maholm injured himself, Garcia began starting games and thriving, and here he is -- set to start against the Dodgers in a must-win Game 4 of the National League Division Series on Monday, scheduled for 9:30 p.m. ET on TBS.
"That wasn't easy, man," Garcia said of his journey. "Being in Triple- A, playing in the big leagues for so long and then this year being in San Diego, Baltimore and now with the Braves, it's been hard for me -- but more hard for my family. It [means] being away from my family, my kids. But now I'm here and I just can't wait till [Monday] to pitch the game."
Though Garcia quickly adapted his pitching style after undergoing major right shoulder surgery in 2007, he struggled to find consistency. A relatively strong three-year run through Chicago and New York ended when the Yankees demoted him to their bullpen midway through 2012. The following spring, San Diego cut Garcia before the end of Spring Training. The Orioles came calling next, but that marriage was short-lived; Baltimore quickly designated Garcia for assignment, ultimately trading him to the Braves for cash.
Next came his run at Triple-A Gwinnett, his September callup and, to the surprise of some, his assignment to the postseason roster.
Now Garcia has "to face a powerful team, a powerful lineup," which includes the likes of Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig and Adrian Gonzalez. That sort of firepower simply does not exist at the Minor League level.
"I just have to go there and pitch the way I've been pitching," Garcia said, "and try to do my best."
His pitching style is a study in resiliency. Long gone are the days of mid-90s fastballs, replaced by an era of splitters, changeups and breaking balls that frequently dip into the 60s.
"I had to change my style," Garcia said. "I used to be a power pitcher. After I got surgery, I wasn't throwing hard anymore. So I had to find a way to get people out. I learned to throw that split-finger and I just pitched backward. I guess it's been fine for me so far."
Helping is the fact that he has been here before. Back in 2000 and '01, when he was a young power pitcher, Garcia starred for a Mariners team that won 207 games in two seasons. He did likewise for the White Sox in 2005, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 4 of the World Series. The White Sox swept that one.
"You start looking at the rotation and see how young they are and how inexperienced they are, then you look at Freddy Garcia's experience, you look at his postseason starts and postseason innings, so you give him an opportunity to do that," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I think he knows how to maneuver himself through a Major League lineup. He's shown that this year."
Garcia has logged more postseason innings than Games 1-3 starters Kris Medlen, Kershaw, Mike Minor, Zack Greinke, Julio Teheran and Hyun-Jin Ryu combined. But Garcia's innings are now most important. With the Braves trailing, 2-1, in this best-of-five series, it's a do-or-die game in the veteran's hands.
Said Gonzalez: "I feel confident that he's going to give us a good start."