Wednesday, August 6, 2014

How Avisail Garcia torched the Gwinnett Braves

In four games over the past five days, the Gwinnett Braves have done a nice job of showing the rest of the International League how not to pitch to Avisail Garcia.

Braves pitchers have fed the White Sox slugger, who’s been with the Charlotte Knights on a Major League rehab assignment since Thursday, a steady diet of fastballs away.

The philosophy being, that after four months of rehabbing a torn labrum in his left shoulder, Garcia shouldn’t have the strength -- or bat speed -- to cover the outer-half of the plate.

While there’s certainly logic behind that approach, the reality was: it didn’t work.

In Wednesday’s 12-10 Knights win in front of 9,760 at BB&T BallPark, Garcia collected two hits – each on fastballs on the outer-half of the plate – and scored two runs before being pinch-hit for in the seven inning after reaching his scheduled four at-bats.  

The two-hit night improved the 23-year-old outfielder to 8-for-15 with a home run, a double, and five runs scored against the Braves and 10-for-19 since he joined the Knights.

“I knew how they were going to try to pitch me a little bit, so I was just trying to make good contact,” Garcia had said following Tuesday’s game. “They were throwing me a lot of fastballs away, so I was ready for that.” 

News of his post-game press conference must not have made its way to the Braves’ dugout because on Wednesday Gwinnett’s “hard and away” mantra trudged onward for Garcia's first three at-bats.

After striking out on a fastball up around his chest in his first plate appearance, Garcia sent an 0-2 fastball on the outer-third of the plate right back up the box for a single in the third inning.

In what became a general theme in Wednesday’s game, Garcia trotted home two batters later on a Josh Phegley (3-for-4, HR, 2B, BB, 6 RBI) double.

In his third at-bat, Garcia took what the Braves were giving him, and laced a line drive right down the first-base line for a double.

"I felt real comfortable when I hit the double because I knew I was going to get that fastball outside because he’d thrown me a breaking pitch right before," Garcia said. 

Once again, Garcia came in to score on a Phegley extra-base hit – this time on the Knights catcher’s 18th home run of the season, which highlighted a five-run fourth inning for Charlotte.

Seemingly learning from its mistakes, Gwinnett chose to pound the 6-foot-4-inch outfielder inside in his final at-bat, which led to the right-hander topping a ball off his left shin and an eventual groundout to short.

The win, which featured 18 Knights' hits (at least one by every starter) and a combined 378 pitches between the two teams, completed a short (in games NOT time) two-game series sweep for the Knights and evened their overall record against the Braves to 7-7 this season.

“I feel great,” said Garcia, who is slated to move from strictly designated hitting to the outfield on Thursday. “I’m just going to keep working hard everyday. I’m trying to enjoy myself and have fun and we’ll see what happens going forward.”  

Ryan Kussmaul came on to toss a scoreless ninth inning to earn his fifth save of the season and preserve the win for Knights’ starter Bobby Doran (3-1), who allowed three runs on seven hits over five innings.

The Knights will begin a four-game series at BB&T against the Pawtucket Red Sox on Thursday. It'll be interesting to see how they approach Garcia.