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In early stages, Bryan Garcia thriving in Tigers' closer role

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Chicago — In professional sports, it’s all about taking advantage of your opportunity.

Bryan Garcia has been given one the last week, or so, and he’s doing something with it.

Garcia has had the chance to close two of the last three games the Tigers have had a shot to win, and he’s done so.

Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Bryan Garcia

With several  Tigers relievers struggling, or just too inconsistent right now, , Garcia has slid into the closer role for the time being.

And most importantly, he’s taking advantage of the chance.

“Not necessarily, but I guess you could say yes by the way we’ve put him in the last couple of times, or at least thought about it,” said manager Ron Gardenhire, as to whether Garcia is his closer. “We feel most comfortable with him right at this second, absolutely. I’m not afraid to call him the closer.

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“But that could change. We’re just trying to win games. That’s what this is all about. You put the best pitcher (in a given situation) in there.”

The Tigers’ 2016 sixth-round draft pick has gravitated toward bigger things this season.

Garcia, 25, entered Friday’s game with a 2-0 record, two saves and a sparking 1.56 ERA in 21 games.

Garcia missed the 2018 minor league season because of Tommy John surgery due to a torn UCL in his right (pitching) elbow.

Returning last year, Garcia showed enough progress where he was called up to the major league roster in September.

The development has continued during this pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

“It’s crazy, I don’t know if I would have predicted this, this quickly,” said Garcia of his comeback from the surgery. “I’m just happy to be here and enjoying it and trying to do my part and get this team some wins.”

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Garcia isn’t new to the closer’s role. He did it at the University of Miami, in the minors, and relishes the pressure of the role.

“It’s a different mindset, you have to know you’re the last piece of the puzzle to win that game usually,” Garcia said. “That’s the role you’ve been given and you have to take advantage of coming into those games and shut it down, shut the door for your team and make sure we grab the win.

“I can handle the role because I can block out the emotions of having to get those last three outs. Anybody who has been a pitcher knows those last three outs are a little more difficult. You have to have that mindset of, whatever happens, happens, and go out there and help your team win that game.”

Getting that opportunity late last year with the Tigers, said Garcia, helped him adjust to this season.

Garcia saw what it takes to be successful at the major league level, and the work and dedication involved.

“An understanding of how things work and the process of how a day works up here,” Garcia said. “It opened my eyes as to how people go about their routines and what I did and did not like and how I wanted to expand my routines every single day.”

Gardenhire is optimistic Garcia can take his new role and thrive.

“He’s a strike-thrower, and that’s real important,” Gardenhire said. “He comes right at them with good fastballs and a nice little change-up and solider. Once he gets comfortable in that role, or wherever else we use him, there’s a lot of ways we can use him.

“He’s pretty confident right now, the ball is coming out of his hand, and we need that because we have had a few guys scuffling down there (bullpen). Someone has had to step up and he’s doing it.”

In the mix

Starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann gave the Tigers an opportunity to split Thursday’s doubleheader with a fine three-inning start in Game 2 in St. Louis.

The Tigers rallied for a 6-3 victory, but Zimmermann’s start was one of the key factors in the win.

But, how will the Tigers use Zimmermann in the closing weeks, or days, in the regular season?

“We’re going to ad-lib here,” Gardenhire said. “We’ll find situations and stick him in there. He’ll end up coming out of the bullpen, he might get a spot start, it depends on what happens to the rest of the guys.

“He’s in the mix right now.”

Jimenez struggling

One of the relievers struggling is Joe Jimenez.

Jimenez entered Friday’s game with a 10.80 ERA and 1.73 WHIP, after giving three runs and three hits in two-thirds innings Thursday in Game 1 against St. Louis.

Jimenez appears to be lacking confidence and has mechanical problems with his delivery.

“A little of both,” said Gardenhire of Jimenez’s struggles. “He’s not making good pitches. Mechanically, he’s trying to force velocity, and jump at the hitters and those things, and just really needs to relax and make better pitches. His slider hasn’t been as sharp because he’s getting out ahead with his body.

“No one is more frustrated than Joe. He wants to do well and there’s a lot of pressure on him, like a lot of other people, and he’s just overdoing it right now. We’ve tried to put him in situations that are easier for him but that’s almost impossible with the way the season is going.”

Tigers at White Sox

First pitch: 7 p.m., Saturday, Guaranteed Rate Field, Chicago

TV/radio: FSD/97.1 

Scouting report

RHP Michael Fulmer (0-1, 8.24), Tigers: Fulmer is coming off a loss Monday in Minnesota, allowing four runs and four hits in 2⅓ innings. He’s had success against the White Sox in his career (2-1, 2.98 ERA).

TBA, White Sox:  One possibility is Reynaldo Lopez, who the Sox recalled from their training site after Dallas Keuchel (back soreness) was put on the 10-day injured list.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan