Garcia's knack for pinch-hitting may extend to October

Rookie's bat skill could propel him to Cardinals' postseason roster

Garcia's knack for pinch-hitting may extend to October

CINCINNATI -- Though unable to push his way into the conversation for a starting infield job, Greg Garcia has quickly emerged as one of the Cardinals' best off the bench.

With a single to help ignite a three-run eighth inning on Wednesday, Garcia improved to 8-for-14 as a pinch-hitter. Those eight pinch-hits are more than anyone else on the club even though Garcia has been on the active roster for just 41 days this season. And the success won't only continue to earn Garcia at-bats off the bench now; it may lead the Cardinals to carry him as their backup infielder in the postseason.

"There are so many good players at the big league level. I knew this was my way to break in," Garcia said. "What guys want to see is a tough at-bat. I can do that. That's something that's within my control -- to give a tough at-bat."

He is one of just 12 rookies in franchise history to tally at least eight pinch-hits in a season. The franchise record is 11, reached four times, most recently by Matt Adams (2013). Garcia has a pinch-hit in each of his last three at-bats, and, back in June, delivered a game-tying, eighth-inning pinch-hit homer that led to a Cardinals win.

So why such immediate results in a role that often takes players seasons to figure out?

"I think first and foremost, you have to have some bat speed," manager Mike Matheny said. "He comes off the bench and hasn't seen game speed, so you have to have good hands to come off and be able to do that. … We use that term 'professional at-bat.' I think that's something that he does take a lot of pride in, how he prepares and all those have been things he's done well."

Garcia attributed the success to a few factors. Among them is the benefit of pinch-hitting ahead of leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter.

"They're not going to want to walk me," Garcia said. "I'm getting good pitches to hit."

He has also settled into an in-game routine, one in which he heads to the cage midgame to take some swings off a pitching machine so he can get used to seeing some velcoity. He's learning to adapt that routine on the road, where such machines are not always available.

Garcia said he also tries to approach pinch-hit opportunities without an all-or-nothing mindset -- even if that is what it is.

"I don't put so much pressure on myself thinking I'm only going to get this one at-bat," he explained. "I take it like another at-bat and when I get a good pitch to hit, don't miss it."

Though Pete Kozma has served as the team's backup shortstop all season, Garcia's ability to provide a spark off the bench could lend the Cardinals to keep him on a playoff roster where defensive ability isn't as critical as what can be offered at the plate. Though he is not a natural shortstop like Kozma, Garcia can play anywhere in the infield.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.