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Tigers' Garcia ready for winter ball

Tigers' Garcia ready for winter ball

Freddy Garcia's late-season stint with the Tigers ended with five solid innings and a tight shoulder in Detroit's season finale. His second season of the year is about to begin, and it could have a big bearing on his big league future, whether or not it's in Detroit.

A week and a half after Garcia left his Sept. 29 outing with an injury around his surgically repaired shoulder, the veteran right-hander was slated to throw a side session Friday. If that goes well, he'll return to his native Venezuela on Monday to join his winter ball club at Magallanes and hopefully start pitching in games by the end of next week, according his agent, Peter Greenberg.

What happens from there will be one of the many issues the Tigers have to address this offseason as they try to retool a pitching staff that manager Jim Leyland said at season's end has just two or three spots sewn up.

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"I think they like what they saw," Greenberg said Friday. "It's going to be up to them once they make their plans."

Garcia's comeback hasn't always gone to plan, but it appears to be nearing a fruition. The 33-year-old, who won 17 games and a World Series with the White Sox in 2005 before shoulder problems put his career on hold the next year, signed a Minor League contract with the Tigers in August and made a few starts in Detroit's farm system. It was the next step of his rehab process after undergoing surgery on his right labrum and rotator cuff in August 2007.

A couple simulated games later, the Tigers purchased his contract from Triple-A Toledo and put him on a big league mound. His first Major League start in more than a year saw him allow a lone unearned run on two hits in five innings Sept. 17 at Texas. A Sept. 23 loss to the Royals, who hit him for three home runs over five innings, was expected to be his final start of the season, but he was on schedule to face the White Sox in their makeup game if the AL Central race necessitated it.

He got his chance and nearly pitched the White Sox out of the playoffs, He took a 2-1 lead into the sixth inning before feeling a twinge around his neck, prompting Leyland and head athletic trainer Kevin Rand to visit the mound.

The injury was muscular tightness stretching from his neck to his right shoulder, Greenberg said. A follow-up examination from Dr. Joe Fernandez in Miami confirmed no structural damage.

"It was cold and rainy [that day], and the start of the game was delayed," Greenberg said. "He was feeling good because his velocity was getting up again. I think he got tired a little bit and tight because of the weather."

Garcia had originally hoped to keep throwing after that outing and transition seamlessly into winter ball a couple weeks later. Instead, he rested his arm until Friday's mound session to avoid aggravating the injury and risking his winter ball season. It isn't simply a matter of pitching in his native country, but pitching for Major League scouts with an eye towards a free-agent contract this winter.

The plan is for Garcia to pitch two months in Venezuela, stretching his pitch count as he goes along to demonstrate his arm can take the workload. He'll likely keep his pitch counts low for the first couple outings since he has had to rest his arm.

While Garcia heads for winter ball, the Tigers will begin their end-of-season organizational meetings next week -- first evaluating the farm system, then looking at the big league club, free agents and trade market later in the month. Garcia, whom the Tigers had coveted in years past, will undoubtedly be a topic of conversation.

Technically, the Tigers retain exclusive negotiating rights to Garcia until after the World Series, when he can file for free agency. No contractual talks have taken place so far.

"Freddy's going to give them the first opportunity," Greenberg said. "When they're ready to talk, we'll listen."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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