The phrase “That’s what Freddy does” has been used frequently over the last month to describe Freddy Garcia. Usually it means pitching five, six or even seven innings and escaping a jam or two along the way while living up to the definition of a wily veteran.
Garcia did it again last night as he allowed two runs and four hits in 6 2/3 innings and earned a 3-2 victory over the Rangers.
Most of Garcia’s ninth start in place of the injured Andy Pettitte was spent baffling the top-hitting team in the game with his assortment of sliders and split-fingered fastballs. The only pitches that did not fool anyone were thrown to Josh Hamilton, who hit his first two regular-season home runs at new Yankee Stadium.
Hamilton deposited a 2-2 slider into the second deck in the fourth inning. In the sixth, he absolutely crushed a 1-1 splitter well into the right-center field bleachers.
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“I’ll take two solo shots,” Garcia said. “I’ll take that every day. He’s a great hitter. I made a couple of mistakes and I paid for it but the good thing is we scored three runs and we won. That’s what we needed tonight.”
But other than Hamilton hitting two long home runs reminiscent of his performance across the street at the 2008 Home Run Derby, it was mostly a stress-free night for Garcia. He breezed through the first three innings and recovered nicely after each Hamilton home run.
“No, not really, because Freddy pitched so well for us last year,” manager Joe Girardi said when asked if he was surprised about Garcia’s success. “If Freddy wouldn’t have pitched so well I would have been surprised. He struggled a little bit in the beginning but we saw really good stuff in spring training. He got off to a slow start for whatever reason and he’s rebounded nicely for us and it’s been really important for us in the absence of Andy.”
Garcia won his third straight game during a stretch in which he has allowed six runs and 14 hits in 17 2/3 innings. His first two wins were against light-hitting Seattle and injury-ravaged Toronto, but this one was against a team that came into the night leading the majors in runs and near the top in hits, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
The performance also continued a remarkable of run of pitching that began with five innings from David Phelps Monday and continued with Hiroki Kuroda’s two-hitter Tuesday. In the last three nights, Yankee pitchers have held the Rangers to a .199 average (37-for-186), including 19 scoreless innings before Hamilton’s first home run.
“Amazing,” catcher Russell Martin said. “You have to make pitches against these guys. There really are no weak spots in this lineup. We just keep making pitches.”
“Our guys have done a tremendous job,” Girardi said. “I applaud our pitchers. They have thrown the ball pretty well.”
Garcia improved to 5-3 with a respectable 3.69 ERA since rejoining the rotation. Including his relief stint for Pettitte, he is 6-3 with a 3.54 ERA after carrying a 6.91 ERA through June 25.
“I feel great right now,” Garcia said. “Everything is there and that’s what happened today. After I go back to the rotation, I spent almost two months in the bullpen trying to figure out things. In April, I was struggling and now I’m feeling really good. I’m throwing strikes and trying to keep the game close.”
Hamilton’s first home run came after the Yankees scored three in the third. Garcia kept it a two-run game though he did not make it easy. He loaded the bases on a single, fielder’s choice and a walk, bringing up Geovany Soto.
After getting ahead 0-2 with a pair of sliders, he threw two more and ended the inning with a double play aided by a nice stretch at first from Nick Swisher.
In the sixth, the dangerous Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz followed Hamilton’s at-bat but it took just eight pitches to get them. Beltre struck out swinging as he flailed at an outside splitter and Cruz popped up a splitter to second baseman Jayson Nix.
Garcia appeared to tire as he fell behind David Murphy and Soto to start the seventh. He recovered nicely by getting Murphy on a ground out and Soto on a called third strike with his slider.
For the second straight night the offense did not do much, but unlike Tuesday they did not wait until the seventh to break out. The three runs came in the third against Scott Feldman, who allowed an RBI double to Swisher and a run-scoring single to Chavez sandwiched around a Curtis Granderson sacrifice fly.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.