WASHINGTON -- Admit it, there have been times over the last couple of seasons when you've looked at Luis Garcia said, "OK, enough of this. It's time to move on."
Some folks in the Phillies organization have even felt this way. The power-armed reliever has had a lot of chances, but never completely put it together because of an inability to throw strikes consistently.
But every time the Phillies seriously think of giving up on Garcia they take another look at that tantalizing arm and decide to give him just a little more time.
The Phils' patience with Garcia might pay off, after all. It sure did Saturday night when he mowed down the heart of the Washington Nationals' batting order in the bottom of the eighth inning to help preserve a 5-4 Phillies' win at Nationals Park (see observations).
The 30-year-old right-hander struck out Daniel Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon -- three studs who carried .300 or better batting averages into the game -- with a mix of splitters, sliders and fastballs. One of the fastballs to Rendon registered 100 mph on the stadium gun.
"I showed him a little mechanical thing to add a little extra," manager Pete Mackanin joked after the game. "He just cut through the middle of their lineup. Outstanding performance."
Mark Leiter Jr. got the pitching victory with six gutsy innings of four-run ball and Rhys Hoskins and Maikel Franco hit home runs. Hoskins also walked three times, including once with the bases loaded in the fourth inning to plate the Phillies' fifth run.
"He's just a smart hitter," Mackanin said.
But this game was won with the bullpen. Edubray Ramos protected a one-run lead in the seventh. Garcia did the same in the eighth and Hector Neris survived some ninth-inning turbulence -- with a big assist from Freddy Galvis and his game-ending fielding gem -- to close it out and earn his 20th save.
"Ramos and Garcia were huge," Mackanin said.
"They came in and did their jobs," Leiter said. "We don't win the game if they don't. It was a great job by them."
Garcia, 30, knows every mile marker on the Northeast Extension as he's gone back and forth between Triple A Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia numerous times in 2014, 2016 and this season, as well. But since June 14, he's been outstanding -- in the big leagues. He's pitched 39 innings in 37 games since then and allowed just eight earned runs for an ERA of 1.85. Opposing batters have hit just .200 (28 for 140) over that span.
"I think it's just part of the process of getting more confident and mature," Garcia said.
"He's getting ahead with strike one more often," Mackanin said. "And his pitch count is under 15 most innings. He's been efficient with his pitches rather than getting behind 1-0, 2-0, and with that comes confidence. He's built himself some confidence."
If Garcia can continue to pitch with confidence and handle his nerves, he could one day be a candidate to close. He certainly has the stuff to do it and adding a splitter to his fastball-slider repertoire has only helped. It wasn't that long ago that Garcia's stuff was compared to Ken Giles'. Giles simply combined his stuff with a fearless assassin's mentality. If Garcia ever gets that, well, the Phillies' patience with him will really pay off.
The bullpen's work preserved a one-run win one night after the Phillies lost their major-league-high 34th one-run game. Six of those defeats have come against the Nationals. For the season, the Phils are 6-9 against the Nationals.
"Those guys across the field have to be thinking, 'How come these guys don't have a better record than that?' because we always play them so tough," Mackanin said. "It's always a close game, it seems."
Regardless of how close the games have been, the Phillies will still be going home in a few weeks, quite possibly with the worst record in the majors, while the Nationals head to the postseason. The Nats' magic number for winning the NL East is two.
But in the rubble of this losing season, the Phils may have found a hitter in Hoskins, and maybe another in Nick Williams. And after all these years of waiting for it to click with Luis Garcia, that might be happening, too.