The major league debut of one Onelki Garcia may have been utterly forgettable, but to Garcia himself, it will never be forgotten. It wouldn’t have ever been forgotten anyway — I would dare say there isn’t anyone alive who has ever played in the majors who can’t remember his debut, whether it was good or bad — but Garcia’s was about as bad as it can get for a pitcher who was never going to face more than one batter anyway.
Well, that’s not entirely true. He could’ve given up a home run to that batter. That would’ve been worse than walking him on four pitches, especially in light of the fact Garcia wasn’t charged with anything else because that batter, Adam Eaton, subsequently was thrown out trying to steal second after Garcia was yanked and Peter Moylan came in from the bullpen. Had Eaton eventually come around to score, Garcia would have temporarily been saddled with the dreaded ERA of “infinity” that a handful of guys have had to wear for a couple of days after making their big league debut and failing to retire a batter. As it is, after one career appearance, Garcia now has an ERA of 0.00, which is about as far from infinity as you can get.
But enough with the math lessons. This clearly was just the result of a guy who was nervous coming in from the bullpen and subsequently couldn’t find the strike zone. When manager Don Mattingly came to get him — Mattingly hadn’t necessarily told Garcia before he came in that he was going to pitch to only one batter, but Mattingly had DECIDED it — Garcia could clearly be seen on television shaking his head and mouthing the word, “Wow.”
“I just wanted to do what I’m able to do,” Garcia said, through an interpreter. “I came in ready to go and to get the guy out, ready to do my job. … I wasn’t surprised (at being lifted) at all. This was my first time in the big leagues, and I felt the pressure a little bit.”
Garcia had a 2.75 ERA in six starts and 19 relief appearances at Double-A Chattanooga this season before being promoted to Triple-A Albuquerque with about three weeks left in the season just to gauge his fitness for a potential big league callup in September. He made 10 appearances for the Isotopes, giving up four runs on six hits over 9 2/3 innings, which was perfectly acceptable. Initially, though, he didn’t receive a September callup. So when the minor league season ended nine days ago, he was sent to the Dodgers spring-training facility in Arizona, along with a handful of the organization’s other prospects, ostensibly to participate in an offseason workout program.
No one with any clout in the organization told him to be ready for a later callup, but Garcia said he had an inkling one might be coming.
“A lot of my teammates told me when I got there that I might get called up,” he said.
The timing of the callup was strange, but with the Dodgers obviously on the brink of wrapping up the division title and the team officials recognizing the need to keep the club’s other primary left-handed relievers, J.P. Howell and Paco Rodriguez, fresh for the playoffs, it was the perfect time to give Garcia a look without much of a risk.
And if that look hasn’t been an especially pretty one so far, well, keep in mind that Garcia hasn’t pitched much lately, at least not in a game setting. He said he threw a couple of sessions of live batting practice and a simulated game at Camelback Ranch, but that’s about it for the past week. So maybe he was rusty. Or maybe he was just nervous. Or maybe we should stop trying to figure out why he couldn’t throw a strike tonight and just accept the fact that with his first one out of the way, he can settle down and probably be better next time.
One of the cool things that happened today was that when Garcia’s Cuban countryman, Yasiel Puig, arrived at the ballpark a few hours before the game and walked into the clubhouse — Garcia wasn’t in there at the time — someone pointed to Garcia’s locker, where a jersey was hanging with the number 98 and Garcia’s name on the back. Puig, who became fast friends with Garcia during their time at advanced Single-A Rancho Cucamonga last year and then again at Chattanooga earlier this season, let out some kind of high-pitched sound that let you know he was considerably excited by this development.
“I have a really good relationship with Puig,” Garcia said after the game. “I got to know him last year. He’s a great teammate.”
By the way, not for nuthin’, but Garcia is the first player in Dodgers history to wear the No. 98. He says he asked for it because it was always his number growing up in Cuba. For the moment, the Dodgers have the distinction of having No. 00 (Brian Wilson), No. 98 (Garcia) and No. 99 (Hyun-Jin Ryu) all on their active roster at the same time.
As for the offseason, Garcia said there are tentative plans for him to spend some time pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League, but nothing is set yet.