Detroit — This was supposed to happen last year.
Bryan Garcia, who left the University of Miami as the school’s all-time saves leader, rocketed up through the Tigers' system in 2017 and was invited to big league camp in 2018. His ascension was abruptly halted for 18 months, though — he had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow on Feb. 16, 2018.
But when Toledo Mud Hens manager Doug Mientkiewicz called him into the office Saturday night and told him he was going to the big leagues, all the angst and disappointment of the last year melted away.
“It was so surreal, I didn’t even know what to feel,” said Garcia, who will be the 10th player to make his major league debut with the Tigers this season. “Obviously, I knew I’d be back in May, so this was the goal.
“But there’s so many ups and downs, especially coming off the surgery, the fact that I’m here is just unreal. I’m proud and very happy.”
Garcia, 24, climbed the organizational ladder this season even quicker than he did in 2017. He was 3-0 with a 3.27 ERA through Lakeland, Erie and Toledo, striking out 47 with 16 walks in 41.1 innings. His last nine outings at Toledo were dominant — 10 innings, one run, five hits, six strikeouts and a .147 opponents’ batting average.
“I feel like everything is there, finally,” he said.
Everything includes a mid-to-upper 90s fastball, a slider and a vastly improved change-up.
“Adversity will always make you stronger,” Garcia said. “I think I handled it the best I could.”
As Garcia sat at home for the entire 2018 season, rehabbing, unable to throw a baseball, eight pitchers passed him on the club’s prospect list. A bunch of his contemporaries — Spencer Turnbull, Gregory Soto, Matt Hall, Sandy Baez, Tyler Alexander — made their big-league debuts.
None of that, as he said in an interview with The Detroit News in January, bothered him.
“Honestly, I am very calm about that stuff,” he said. “I don’t read that stuff (the prospect rankings). I just worry about myself. Obviously, I know the prospects that we have. But I don’t feel forgotten at all. I’ve missed a year, so you can’t expect much.
“If I come back healthy, I know what I can do and I know what I have done. I’ve proven myself and I know I can do it again. I have no worries about that.”
That proved to be true.
“It took way too much patience,” he said Sunday. “I am surprised at how well I handled it, to be honest. But you need to have patience and you need to take every day as it comes. I matured (through the process), definitely. I realized there were some things I needed to fix to stay healthy.”
The best part of the whole night for Garcia was calling his friends and family and sharing the good news.
“My parents started screaming, my girlfriend started screaming,” he said. “I called my best buddies and they are going to be here today. Everyone is so happy and I can’t thank them enough for all they’ve done for me.
“As a little kid you want to get to the big leagues and that’s the call you want to make – to tell your parents. I’m just so proud because I worked so hard and I finally made it up here.”
It was buried in the avalanche of home runs hit Saturday night (six by the Twins and two by Ronny Rodriguez), but the most dramatic moment of the night came in the eighth inning and it featured a pitch called by catcher John Hicks that had manager Ron Gardenhire reaching for the Maalox.
“It scared the crap out of me, let me put it that way,” Gardenhire said.
The situation: The Tigers had a four-run lead and Buck Farmer, who had three strikeouts but had lost one on a wild pitch, walked Max Kepler to load the bases with two outs.
Farmer was at 25 pitches and struggling, Gardenhire he went to right-hander Jose Cisnero against pinch-hitter Luis Arraez.
Cisnero promptly fell into a 3-1 hole, but he got Arraez to foul off three straight 96-mph fastballs. On the eighth pitch of the at-bat, Hicks called for a slider.
“We’ve done it a couple of times this year with a full count and the bases loaded,” Hicks said. “He has a really good slider.”
Still, it was a gutsy call with the top of the order coming up. But Cisnero didn’t blink. He executed the slider, put it on the inside black and home plate umpire gave him the borderline call — strike three.
“For me in that spot, bases loaded and up by four runs, if you keep pumping fastballs in there, eventually he’s going to catch up to it,” Hicks said. “And if he does and he hits it over the fence, we’re tied up. A walk in that situation isn’t as bad.
“But we came at him with a pitch Jose generally throws for a strike and hoped he was expecting a fastball. It's a good feeling in a spot like that when you put it down and they've got conviction with it and we're on the same page like that.”
Believe it or not, despite the 8-3 loss to the Twins Sunday, there are some positive things going on with the Tigers. Victor Reyes is one of them.
Reyes got two more hits and knocked in a run Sunday. It was his 17th multi-hit hit game, his 11th in the last 21 games. Over that span, he is hitting .351 with five double, two triples, a home run and nine RBIs. He’s also stolen four bases.
Brandon Dixon, too, seems to have snapped out of his August funk (.227, 38 strikeouts in 105 plate appearance). After doubling twice on Saturday, he doubled home a run, walked, singled and scored Sunday.
Third baseman Dawel Lugo, who has hit safely in eight of his last nine games, also doubled and scored. He’s hitting .382 with three doubles, a triple and two home runs in that stretch.
Jordy Mercer, who has a six-game hitting streak, had two hits, including his seventh home run of the season, a 416-footer to left.
Around the horn
Incidentally, the four-strikeout eighth inning Saturday was the first for the Tigers since Game 1 of the 2013 American League Championship Series, per Elias Sports Bureau. The last time they did it in a regular-season game was Aug. 13, 1988.
… The Tigers also called up right-handed reliever John Schreiber on Sunday. The Rockwood native pitched in two games for the Tigers earlier this season, allowing three runs in 1.2 innings.
Twins at Tigers
First pitch: Monday, 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
TV/radio: FSD/97.1 FM
RHP Jake Odorizzi (14-6, 3.55), Twins: The Tigers didn’t have much fun against him back in May, when he blanked them on one hit over seven innings. He’s allowed three earned runs or less in his last six starts. His four-seam fastball, which he throws 56 percent of the time, is lethal — opponents hitting .204 with a 31 percent strikeout rate against it.
RHP Jordan Zimmermann (1-9, 6.24), Tigers: How has the inclusion of a sinker impacted his game? In his last three starts, opponents are hitting .164 with a .538 OPS against him. He has 14 strikeouts and one walk in his last 16 innings. But more to the point, since added the sinker, his slider has become a weapon again. In July, opponents hit .531 off his slider without a sinker to set it up. In August, they are hitting .233 against his slider.