Even as Luis Garcia gets deeper into his longest season as a professional, he's been hitting his stride on the mound.
On Wednesday night, the No. 29 Astros prospect checked off another double-digit strikeout performance and helped put the Class A Advanced Woodpeckers into the history books in the process.
Garcia whiffed a franchise-record 13 while allowing one run on three hits and a walk in six frames to lead Fayetteville to an 8-2 win over Down East at SEGRA Stadium. His outing gave the Woodpeckers the Carolina League single-season record with 1,287 strikeouts.
Video: Woodpeckers' Garcia sets franchise, league K marks
"It was his ability to throw his slider, he got a lot of whiffs on his slider," Fayetteville pitching coach Thomas Whitsett said of Garcia. "I don't think he tried to do too much. His fastball was probably the best it's been all year. His ability to locate it at the top of the zone played really well for him. I was just really excited for him, it was his best outing of his career."
Garcia (5-5) didn't last more than four innings in any outing over a four-game stretch from July 13-Aug. 1, but turned things around on Aug. 7 against Wilmington. The 22-year-old whiffed 10 in six innings, yielding two hits and three walks in his first scoreless outing since June 11.
It was more of the same for Garcia against Down East, as he faced four over the minimum in his ninth overall win of the season.
In his first full professional season, the Venezuela native has focused on bettering his slider, which has taken a noticeable step forward in recent weeks and helped Garcia work through his second consecutive six-inning outing.
"Luis is a professional in every sense of the word," Whitsett said. "Every day, he's working on his off-speed pitches, mainly his slider. ... It's really cool at the end of the season to see how it's performing for him. I'm extremely excited for him."
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A quick first inning was followed by a tough second. Diosbel Arias tripled to right field with one out and Sherten Apostel drew a two-out walk to put runners on the corners. But Garcia remained unshaken and whiffed Josh Altmann to strand the runners.
Second-ranked Rangers prospect Sam Huff provided the only damage against Garcia in the ensuing frame with a solo homer to left, his 13th of the year. But the Woodpeckers starter picked up three more strikeouts in the frame.
According to Whitsett, the inning and recovery was emblematic of how Garcia has remained aggressive even when things go off track for a little bit. Huff homered on a slider, but Garcia utilitzed the same pitch on his very next offering to Curtis Terry.
"I think it says a lot about his maturity," the coach said. "Maybe in the past, [he was] giving up a couple of hard-hit balls and letting it spiral. At this point in his career, I think he's really learned how to manage the inning. Give up a home run, so what, get back to pitching. ... Just not afraid to go back to that [the slider] and that just shows how special he is and how mature he is and the ability to make adjustments pitch to pitch."
Garcia hit a groove over the next three frames, punching out seven of the next eight batters until Terry singled to center with two down in the sixth. He was the last batter to reach against the 6-foot-1, 216-pound hurler, who got Yohel Pozo to pop out to short to end the frame.
After his ERA rose to 4.19 to start the month, Garcia lowered that mark to 3.38 by allowing one run over his next 12 frames. In 93 2/3 innings between Class A Quad Cities and Fayetteville, he sports a 3.17 ERA. Whitsett likes the path the pitcher has taken early in his career and said there is a "high ceiling" for Garcia going forward.
"I see him going out and continuing to log great innings, punch guys out and continue to help whatever team he's with win ballgames," Whitsett said. "He's a professional, I don't see him going backward, I just see him getting better and better as his career progresses."
2019 MiLB include
J.P. France whiffed two and Tanner Duncan picked up one strikeout as Fayetteville closed the game out with 15 punchouts. Their record of 1,287 strikeouts eclipsed the previous mark set (1,272 strikeouts) by the 2018 Buies Creek Astros.
The staff has eight pitchers who have recorded at least 60 strikeouts, which Whitsett attributes to their work ethic and preparation with the River Bandits before making the jump to the Carolina League. The club also ranks third on the circuit in ERA (3.51) and shutouts (11).
"Obviously, we work hard every day and our guys have come out continuously and focused on getting their pitches better, developing their delivery," the coach said. "Seeing it all come together, see these guys have success is special for me just to watch it and be part of it."
Scott Schreiber and Scott Manea went deep as the Woodpeckers collected 10 hits in the victory.