CLEARWATER — Deivi Garcia is unfazed. When he made his major league debut last season under the most extreme circumstances, the 21-year-old took it in stride. Coming off his first big league season, Garcia went back to his native Dominican Republic and immediately started working on getting better. Coming into spring training with a chance — and not a promise — to make the big league rotation, Garcia just goes about his work.
“We have so much talent here. We have a lot of young players that have so many different abilities. The key for me is to stay healthy,” Garcia said with a shrug when asked about being in a competition for the Yankees’ fifth starter spot. “I think, if I’m able to stay healthy, that is gonna give me the best chance at helping this team.”
Garcia made his first argument for that spot Thursday. The right-hander allowed two runs (both on homers) in his first two innings of the year. He struck out three and did not walk a batter in the Yankees 15-0 loss to the Phillies at BayCare Ballpark. He gave up a first-inning home run to Scott Kingery and then a leadoff homer to Odubel Herrera in the second. He threw 27 pitches.
Unsurprisingly for his first start of spring, Garcia struggled with his command Thursday.
“Every pitch in the arsenal is looking good, as is his arm-speed,” said one scout at the game. “He showed he had more gas for (a fastball) if he needed it.
“The only thing was that he was too much on the heart of the plate with every pitch.”
Friday, his main competition for that fifth spot, Domingo German, who missed last season serving a suspension under baseball’s domestic violence policy, will get his first chance to face big leaguers again and vie for the spot.
Garcia is not intimidated by big league hitters or experience competition.
He made six starts last year, finishing the regular season with a 4.98 ERA with 33 strikeouts over 34.1 innings pitched. The Yankees used him as their opener in Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Rays.
“He seems like he’s got a lot of confidence out there. He’s got the ability to pitch top zone, which is something that’s gone over the last couple years of baseball. Now if he gets more consistent with his offspeed pitches, I think he’s got potential to be a pretty good starter in the big leagues,” Yankees slugger Luke Voit said. “He’s still young, he’s still got to locate. He made some mistakes in his fastball today, but if now he can get his command better, I think he’s gonna be pretty good.”
After having met Garcia back in the instructional leagues in the Dominican Republic, Yankees interim manager Carlos Mendoza was not surprised how he handled himself last year. Mendoza, who is managing the Yankees while Aaron Boone is on medical leave, is not surprised how Garcia has come into this spring training confident and fighting for his spot.
He’s long been seen for being mature beyond his years and with an innate pitching intelligence, even getting compared to a Hall of Famer.
“Everybody was kind of talking about him and comparing him to Pedro Martinez. At the time, I was like, really, we’re dropping Pedro Martinez on him at this age,” Mendoza said with a laugh. “But, he’s a great kid. Having conversations with him and just getting to know his family, he’s a smart kid and always willing to learn.”
That is key for Garcia, who pitched in the Dominican winter league to work on his delivery and balance. He’s spent his last two big league camps soaking up knowledge from the veteran pitchers.
“It always has been a point of mine to listen to the people around me, to listen to the people with knowledge about the game and learn from them. One of the things I’ve been able to do in this camp is how to listen to your body and understand what’s off sync at certain moments and find a way to make corrections.”
That is what Mendoza has seen from Garcia over the past five years in player development and what he expects to see from him this year.
“Right now, basically, go out there compete,” Mendoza said, “throw your pitches and continue to learn.”