The warning signs surfaced as early as March 19 under horrible conditions at Tucson's Randolph Park.
Freddy Garcia, fresh off a brilliant effort for his native Venezuela, was trying his hardest just to break a sweat and maintain his endurance against Colorado's Triple-A team.
Garcia couldn't get loose and survived the 30-pitch outing with a heavy dose of curves and a batting practice fastball before the rains were too heavy to endure.
Under brisk but beautiful conditions Tuesday, Garcia had no escape as Cleveland's unforgiving hitters ruined the White Sox's previously festive day when they pounded him for seven runs in four-plus innings en route to a 8-2 victory at sold-out U.S. Cellular Field.
Garcia lived up to his billing as a big-game pitcher as recently as last month in the World Baseball Classic, when he beat Italy and limited the Dominican Republic's heavy-hitting lineup to one run on four hits over four innings on March 14.
Garcia also threw a complete-game victory in Game Four of the American League Championship Series and hurled seven shutout innings against Houston in the clinching game of the World Series.
But Tuesday's outing against the Indians created some cause for concern.
The windy conditions in Tucson weren't conducive to pitching, but Garcia allowed 11 hits in 61/3 innings in his final Cactus League start against Milwaukee.
Garcia threw an alarmingly frequent number of breaking pitches from the outset Tuesday, and the Indians' started solving him when they strung together four consecutive two-out hits in the fourth to take a 4-0 lead.
Manager Ozzie Guillen stuck with Garcia until the first three batters in the fifth reached base.
The speed readings on the right field board didn't register Garcia's pitches early in the game, but catcher A.J. Pierzynski had this blunt assessment:
"His velocity was done," Pierzynski said. "His pitches weren't as sharp. He threw some balls up, and they got hit. That's what happens. You fall behind, your stuff isn't as sharp and they hit it.
"His location was off, but that's the first start of the year. He has 35 more."
It might be that Garcia responds better in warmer weather, but he pitched eight innings of four-hit ball under chilly conditions last April in Cleveland.
Garcia did not blame his performance on the pregame ring ceremony that was underway when he started to warm up.
Neither did he cite his participation in the WBC that caused him to start preparing earlier than normal after a lengthy 2005 season in which he hurled 249 innings, including the postseason.
"I couldn't really get it going," Garcia said. "I wasn't even sweating."
But Garcia wasn't the only one who struggled in his 2006 debut. Aaron Boone tagged left-hander Neal Cotts for a home run in the seventh to cap his four-hit, four-RBI performance.
Cotts allowed only one home run in 69 games last yearto the Cubs' Jason DuBois on June 24.
But the game was already out of reach. Garcia will get more chances to redeem himself with 17 games left against the Sox's AL Central rival.
"Freddy has started like that since we've had him," Guillen said. "All of a sudden, he picks it up to 91-92 (m.p.h.) when he needs it. But his velocity early in the game was very slow.
"The way Freddy pitches, he takes his timeand his body language is always the same.
"When you don't pitch well, people think he's not there, but I expect a better outing next time."
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