Tommy John Times Two: How RHP Christian Garcia is On the Road to Recovery

Pop quiz: What do all of the following pitchers have in common?

John Smoltz.  Eric Gagne.  Tim Hudson.  Adam Wainwright.  Billy Wagner.  Joe Nathan.  Chris Carpenter.  And oh, yeah, Stephen Strasburg.

Answer?  Not just that they’ve all had, or are destined to have, highly successful careers – but that they’ve all undergone the medical procedure known as Tommy John surgery.  The surgery, named after the left-hander who first underwent it in 1974, is a procedure in which an elbow ligament is replaced with a tendon from somewhere else in the body.  It’s become almost commonplace among major leaguers, and most pitchers come back even stronger from the procedure.

But what happens if you have the surgery…twice?

Just ask new Chiefs pitcher Christian Garcia.  He had the surgery in 2006 and 2010, while pitching in the Yankees’ minor league system.

“It hasn’t happened to many people,” Garcia said.  “I don’t want to say bad luck.  It’s kind of the way I throw, with the kind of torque I put on my elbow.  The rehab process is a little longer (after the second surgery).  The first Tommy John’s about a year, 12 months of a rehab process.  The second one’s about 15, 16 months until you get back at 100 percent.”

Garcia, a 2004 third-round pick by the Yankees, signed with the Nationals this season to try and reclaim his chance at pitching in the major leagues.  But the odds of that lower significantly sfter a second surgery.  Last season, Phillies reliever Scott Mathieson became just the 15th player to make the major leagues after two Tommy John surgeries, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

So after the second surgery, Garcia didn’t have too many people to talk to that could draw on their own personal experiences.  But through a connection, he found one.  It just so happened that connection was the last pitcher to make the majors after two surgeries – Mathieson.

“John Mayberry Jr. is one of my really good friends, and he called me when I had a surgery and said he had a buddy just overcoming that,” said Garcia.  “He kind of helped me along the way.  I used to text him and say hey, I’m feeling this, or ask ‘what did you do when this happened?’  It’s nice to have somebody that’s already done it, because when you’re having the second Tommy John, you’re going through something where you can’t get a lot of feedback from somebody, because not a lot of people have gone through it.  It’s good to have somebody to bounce things off.”

Fate is a funny thing sometimes – last night was Garcia’s first ever Triple-A game.  The right-hander looked strong in tossing two hitless innings of relief.  And the opposing starting pitcher in the game?  Mathieson.

While 2011 is nearly over, Garcia’s looking forward to the future with the Nationals.  He says the choice to join Washington this season was a no-brainer.

“It’s an opportunity to pitch in the big leagues,” said Garcia about the Nationals.  “A lot of teams that wanted to sign me, they were throwing me in the back burner.  This team wanted to sign me and not only sign me but use me as a valuable person, not just another player on the roster.  That had a lot to do with it, and the way the organization was organized…I went and visited six other teams that were not as organized and as professional as this one.  When I came to this one, I told my agent ‘let’s try to make it happen here,’ because this is where I felt most comfortable and I felt it resembled the same thing as the Yankees.  It wasn’t like I was making a huge change – it was like I’m in the same place, just (with) different uniforms and a different location.”

———-

Garcia and the Chiefs close out their season today against the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.  A win could potentially knock the IronPigs into a tie for the wild card, if Gwinnett wins its game against Charlotte.  Tune in to The Score 1260 at 1:45 for our Clubhouse Show and 2:00 for first pitch – or head out to the ballpark for the final time in 2011.

Thanks to everyone who read and supported us this season.  Keep the e-mails and tweets coming though, at kevinbrown@syracusechiefs.com and @ChiefsRadio.

Kevin

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