By Yusseff Díaz
Though his brief sting in the MLB was forgettable, LHP Onelki Garcia has turned to quite a catch for the Hanshin Tigers in the NPB.
Onelki Garcia is entering his third season in the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) and his second with the Hanshin Tigers. The lefty debuted with the Chunichi Dragons in 2018 and posted a sparkling 13-9 record and a 2.99 earned run average.
In 2019 preseason he signed a 1 year 1.5 million contract with the Hanshin Tigers after failing to reach an agreement on a contract with Chunichi, but due to inconsistencies and injuries, he posted a 6-8 record. In the latter part of the 2019 season, he was relegated to the bullpen and shined. He impressed the team so much during his stint in the relieving corps that the team re-upped him for another season. In total, in the NPB he has a record of 19-17 and a 3.64 ERA.
The lefty from Guantánamo, Cuba has big-league experience with the LA Dodgers and Kansas City Royal but left the grand stage with a 13.50 in his five-game audition between the two ball clubs. In his last season in the majors, he was 2017 with Los Angeles.
Onelki Garcia has also had plenty of winter league experience in the Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Dominican circuits. In his last stint in the ultra-talented Dominican Winter League with the Licey Tigers he lead the league in victories, earned run average and strikeouts during the league’s regular season.
How do you transition from the Serie Nacional to professional baseball?
It was a rough transition and I had an adaptive period, but I got plenty of help from my teammates, and thank god I was able to adapt to this level of baseball.
How did you feel the first time you took the mound at Dodger Stadium?
It was a beautiful experience, but it was also a bittersweet one. I accomplished my goal of reaching the majors, but then again I didn’t have my best day toeing the rubber that day.
Compare the pitching in the Serie Nacional with that of the Mexican League?
Very similar pitching, just in México there is more discipline. But at the end of the day baseball is baseball and it will always be very competitive.
You’ve pitched in various winter leagues, how are batters similar and how do they differ in these leagues?
This is true I’ve pitched in these various leagues and there is great potential, with baseball being so global in today’s day and age the competition is top-notch in all these leagues.
In your first winter league season, you pitched in Puerto Rico with the Ponce Lions, did having plenty of Cubans on that roster make you feel more comfortable?
I had to play there because I was going through the migration process. It was a breath of fresh air to play with Hassan Pena, Félix Pérez, Yadel Marti, and Deinys Suárez. They taught me the ropes on how to prepare properly in these leagues.
You’ve played in the greatest rivalry in the Dominican League, Licey vs Aguilas, share with us that intensity of that matchup?
It’s like a rivalry I’ve never experienced, those fan bases are bitter rivals and the teams no matter their records get up to play each other. I got a strange adrenaline rush playing against the Aguilas. It’s a sensation that one has to feel to explain.
What is your goal for the season in the NPB?
First of all, is to stay healthy and my ultimate goal is to have a productive season. I want to help the ball club win and do it in any way I can and obviously the ultimate goal is to win a championship.
Do you still follow the Serie Nacional and would you like to one day take the mound at Van Troi Stadium in Guantanamo again?
I try to watch as many games as possible and I would definitely love to pitch in “El Guaso” (Guantánamo) once again because that’s where I’m from and my roots are there.