Inside Pitch: Garcia on comeback trail
Right-hander expects to be fully healthy; could help contender
Freddy Garcia took another step toward returning to the mound this week and could be ready to help a contender by the end of August.
"I saw him pitch this week and he's at 75-80 percent," Garcia's agent, Peter Greenberg, told MLB.com. "He was throwing only fastballs and changeups; once we do the curveball then we'll go from there. His health determines his schedule more than anything else."
Garcia, rehabbing from shoulder surgery, is expected to be 100 percent within two weeks and once that happens, he will pitch a showcase session for interested teams, most likely between July 20-24, according to Greenberg. That will give interested teams a chance to evaluate the right-hander before the trade deadline.
"We intend to give each team two weeks notice so everybody can get their top person there," said Greenberg, who added that more than a dozen teams have contacted his office regarding Garcia. "There might be more than that. Teams have contacted us almost on a daily basis."
The Astros, Cardinals, Dodgers, Rays, Red Sox, Tigers, Twins and Yankees are among the teams that are expected to monitor Garcia's session.
Greenberg said his client would wait until signing with a team before deciding on a timetable for when he would make his first Major League appearance since June 8 of last year.
"From talking to Freddy I would think three to four rehab starts in the Minors I think he could be OK," Greenberg said. "Again we'll leave that up to the team; ideally he'll be ready to pitch [in the Major Leagues] by the end of August."
Shoulder surgeries typically take longer to come back from than elbow surgeries. But some do make it back, with Pedro Martinez of the Mets a recent example.
A healthy Garcia could provide a homestretch boost for a contending team. He is 6-2 with a 3.11 ERA in postseason play. His career record is 117-76 with a 4.07 ERA.
Greenberg said Garcia is going into the process with an open mind.
"The majority of the teams interested in Freddy are contenders and that will be one of the considerations -- all things being equal his preference would be to go with a team that has a chance to keep playing in October," Greenberg said. "But we're going to be open to listening to what the teams have to offer. At this point we're leaning toward signing him for the rest of this year."
A healthy Garcia, 33, could use the last two months and perhaps the postseason to demonstrate his health and then hit the free agent market during the offseason.
Matt Garza drew attention last year when he went 5-7 with a 3.69 ERA in 16 starts for the Twins. But the right-hander has been even more impressive since joining Tampa Bay. He is 7-4 with a 3.47 ERA in 15 starts.
The 24-year-old is 10th in the American League in WHIP (1.169) and has allowed a total of five earned runs in his last four starts, covering 29 innings (1.55 ERA).
"His two seamer looks better this year," a scout said. "That's making his other pitches more effective and he's getting more ground balls and strikeouts than he was before."
Troy Percival's left hamstring problem landed the Rays closer on the disabled list, which could ramp up Tampa Bay's interest in closing options from outside the organization, such as Colorado's Brian Fuentes. But the Rays don't feel like they must make a move. Grant Balfour has closer's stuff and was excellent against the Red Sox in that role Tuesday night. Dan Wheeler spent time in the role for Houston and Al Reyes, currently sidelined with right shoulder tendinitis, converted 26 of 30 save opportunities last season and is eligible to come off the disabled list.
Fuentes has also drawn interest from the Red Sox in the light of Hideki Okajima's recent struggles.
Okajima has entered a game with runners on base just once since May 14. The left-hander is 1-2 with a 3.06 ERA, but went 0-2 with a 9.64 in 11 appearances in June. Opponents hit .413 against him during that span.
The Braves have discussed the possibility of sending Jeff Francoeur to the Minor Leagues. Francoeur's on-base-plus-slugging percentage entering Thursday night's game was only .669.
Francoeur's struggles are partly behind Atlanta's interest in Pittsburgh outfielders Jason Bay and Xavier Nady. though it's unclear how serious that interest is at this point.
Boston's series at Houston last weekend showcased two of the top basestealers in the game, Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox and Michael Bourn of the Astros.
Astros manager Cecil Cooper was asked who he thought would win a race between the two fleet-footed center fielders.
"Be interesting," Cooper said, smiling. "I think Michael would get him, though."
The Astros designated Oscar Villarreal for assignment on Wednesday, not surprising considering the right-hander's performance (12 home runs allowed in 37 2/3 innings) but a bit of surprise since he is signed for $1.6 million for next season with a club option worth $2 million or a $250,000 buyout for 2010. He is being paid $1 million for 2008.
Villarreal, acquired from Atlanta during the offseason for outfielder Josh Anderson, has three days to make a decision on whether he will go to the Minor Leagues. But Houston is on the hook for the balance of his contract either way.
The Phillies have stepped up their search for pitching in the wake of Brett Myers' demotion and have scouted several pitchers, including Seattle's Erik Bedard, Cleveland's C.C. Sabathia and San Diego's Greg Maddux. Gordon Lakey, Philadelphia's director of Major League scouting, was also at Minute Maid Park over the weekend watching the Red Sox vs. the Astros.
Russell Branyan has contributed to Milwaukee's recent resurgence, and Branyan believes his use of a computer program has helped his game.
Branyan has regularly using the "Vizual Edge Performance Trainer," a computer program billed as weight training for the eyes, developed by the Visual Fitness Institute in Vernon Hills, Ill. The software includes a number of exercises tailored to a variety of sports, which according to its developer, Dr. Barry Seiller, can help athletes improve their visual alignment, flexibility, recognition and tracking, as well as their depth perception.
Branyan is interested in the depth-perception drill. He says his work with the Vizual Edge software -- two or three times a week for as little as 10 minutes per session -- is certainly not the only reason for his resurgence this season. But he also believes it has helped.
"It makes sense that you train the muscles in your eyes, just like you train the muscles in the rest of your body," he said. "You might think you're focused on the ball as it's coming at you, when really you're focused just behind it. That can be the difference between a swing and a miss and making good, hard contact."
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com reporters contributed. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.