MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Garcia gives Yankees what Red Sox lack

Bloom: Garcia gives Yanks what Sox lack

NEW YORK -- Rarely is a 96-win team less than a week away from the beginning of the playoffs with so many questions about its starting rotation left to answer. But if Freddy Garcia didn't pitch himself into a Game 3 start on Saturday with his six innings of six-hit, shutout ball against the Red Sox in a 9-1 Yankees win, then something is not in alignment in Yankee Universe.

"It's not my decision to make," CC Sabathia said when queried after the Yankees handed the Red Sox and their ace, Jon Lester, a loss that could be devastating to Boston's playoff hopes. "But it would be great if [Garcia] got a chance to start."

The Rays came from behind to defeat the Blue Jays, 6-2, on Saturday night and head into play on Sunday trailing Boston by 1 1/2 games in the American League Wild Card race. The Red Sox's immediate hopes rest on the shaky arms of Tim Wakefield and John Lackey in Sunday's day-night doubleheader at Yankee Stadium.

After the game on Saturday, Yankees manager Joe Girardi wouldn't exactly commit to Garcia starting behind Sabathia and rookie Ivan Nova when their AL Division Series opens next Friday at Yankee Stadium against either the Tigers, Rangers or perhaps Angels, who loom close behind Tampa Bay. But Girardi knows the options are limited at this point.

"He's one of the guys we're considering, definitely," Girardi said after Garcia's effort. "Freddy is a guy who's been there and done all that. As we move forward, we'll continue to look at all these things, but today, he pitched great."

Sabathia will start Game 1 under any circumstances, but the Yankees go into the postseason so short of starting pitching that Sabathia said he's available on three days' rest to also start Games 4, if necessary, in the best-of-five series. Girardi said that was one of the Yankees' options.

Sabathia pitched on three days' rest two years ago in both a six-game AL Championship Series triumph over the Angels and in a six-game World Series victory over the Phillies. And he carried the Brewers to the 2008 Wild Card berth in the National League by pitching on three days' rest three times down the stretch.

"Yes, I'm fine with it, I can do that," said Sabathia, who'll pitch a simulated game before Sunday's doubleheader opener and won't throw in a game again for the remainder of the regular season. "I'm ready. I'm good to go."

The Yankees certainly put a crimp in Boston's pitching plans, as the Red Sox are struggling to survive in an AL Wild Card race they led by as many as 10 games on Aug. 17. By knocking out Lester with two out in the third inning, New York put pressure on Red Sox manager Terry Francona to bring back his ace left-hander on three days' rest at Baltimore on Wednesday night in the regular-season finale, as long as the game is still essential to deciding a playoff spot.

On Saturday, Lester allowed eight runs on eight hits, including a three-run Derek Jeter homer that capped a six-run second inning and blew the game open. Boston's starting rotation has scuffled to a 7.36 ERA this month. Lester has lost his last three starts, allowing 16 earned runs and 21 hits in 13 2/3 innings. The slump couldn't come at a worse time.

Still, like Sabathia, Lester said he'll be ready to pitch again whenever asked, even if it's on short notice. If it's not Wednesday, then it certainly would be Game 1 of Boston's ALDS next Friday.

Will Lester pitch again this season?

"I would imagine, one way or the other," Lester said after Saturday's loss.

Meanwhile, Garcia delivered his best outing in a month and won for the first time since Aug. 29, baffling the Red Sox with an array of offspeed pitches and 88-mph fastballs.

"We got down early by a lot, and that's a tough way to play," said Francona, who shook up the Nos. 2-5 spots in his lineup, to no avail. "And then Garcia [was] adding and subtracting. When we did get in hitters' counts, he took a little off, took the sting out of our bats and it ended up being a long day."

Garcia's 102-pitch outing -- which included a walk and three strikeouts -- couldn't have come at a more opportune time for Girardi and the Yankees brass, who will have discussions about setting the playoff rotation as the club finishes the regular season next week at St. Petersburg.

Girardi has this to work with:

Bartolo Colon hasn't won any of his last nine outings, dating back to Aug. 5. A.J. Burnett has won three times since June 29. Phil Hughes has been injured and ineffective and has won once since Aug. 13. Hughes, who has been nursing a bad back, threw a 35-pitch bullpen session on Saturday, and Girardi could start the right-hander in one of the three games against the Rays. But that's a big jump into the ALDS rotation.

And then there's Garcia, who has pitched in the postseason for the Mariners and White Sox. He's been there before, as Girardi said, going 3-0 with a 2.14 ERA in three starts in 2005, the year the White Sox swept Houston in the World Series. Garcia, nearly 35, has pitched well in big games, and he came up big on Saturday.

"I needed to pitch good today because my last three starts were not very good," Garcia said. "I've been struggling a little bit. I did it. I'm really happy about it. I don't know when my next start will be, but hopefully in the playoffs."

Garcia, like Colon, was signed with low risk and relatively low expectations as the Yankees tried to fill a starting pitching void this past offseason when Cliff Lee signed as a free agent with the Phillies and Andy Pettitte retired. New York is paying Garcia $1.5 million and Colon $900,000.

So it has come down to all this for the team with a Major League-high $207 million payroll. Garcia in Game 3?

"The same thing happened last year," Sabathia said. "We didn't know who was going to pitch Game 2 [of the ALCS against Texas] because Pettitte was hurt. It's just one of those things. We'll figure it out."

Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.