Let’s just say nobody looks forward to rehab assignments. Whether you’re a second-year player or a 10-year vet, a trip back to the minors isn’t really what anybody envisions as part of a successful season.
Mitch Garver will tell you much of the same. It’s unfortunate. It’s not exactly where he was looking to go, particularly after a rock-solid start to his second season with the Texas Rangers.
He’ll also tell you sometimes things really break your way.
“We lucked out,” he said on Tuesday with a smile.
This week, one of Albuquerque’s best is back home. During the Isotopes’ 13-4 win over Round Rock on Tuesday, Garver, a former La Cueva and UNM standout, got his first live action since he suffered a knee injury in mid-April.
Serving as the Express’ designated hitter on Tuesday, Garver, 32, went 2-for-4 with two doubles and scored twice out of the two-hole. Round Rock plans to DH him again on Wednesday before he returns to his usual perch behind the plate for five innings on Thursday.
“It’ll be somebody I’ve never caught before,” Garver said. “But being able to catch in a familiar setting like this will be fun. It’s just going to be nice to have some of my family and friends out here that I haven’t seen in a few years.”
For the first professional games he’s ever played in Albuquerque, Garver estimated 20-25 family members and friends will be in the stands each night. At least he thinks that’s the number.
“My wife’s handling it,” Garver laughed.
The homecoming goes beyond just playing at the same ballpark he won championships in. Garver said he’s staying with his parents for the duration of Round Rock’s series against Albuquerque and spent time on Tuesday afternoon catching up with Isotopes hitting coach Jordan Pacheco, a fellow La Cueva and UNM alum.
“I always looked up to JP,” Garver said, smiling. “We grew up down the street from each other.”
Being back in the place where it all started also gives Garver a chance to reflect on the last few years. Once UNM’s ironman behind the plate with a program-record 181 consecutive games started, he’s now tasked with working through his second injury in the last calendar year.
Signs of the first came while Garver was still with the Minnesota Twins heading into 2022. As a season-delaying lockout wore on, he knew something wasn’t right, especially as he started to have trouble throwing. But the nature of the stoppage left him unable to communicate with Minnesota even as uncertainties mounted.
In March, two days after the lockout ended, Minnesota traded Garver to the Rangers for shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa and pitching prospect Ronny Henriquez.
Spring training with Texas was mostly fine from a physical standpoint. But if he didn’t feel outright discomfort, he still felt sore. An MRI after the Rangers’ opening series against Toronto confirmed Garver had a partially torn flexor tendon.
He continued to catch and hit. Another MRI ijn May showed his tear was only getting worse. Garver primarily DH’d until early July until he reached the point “where I wasn’t able to be the player I wanted to be,” he said.
The announcement came on July 8: Garver would get season-ending surgery, the first of his career. After successfully rehabbing this offseason, he’s eager to get through this rehab stint and get back to the bigs.
And after that? He’s not sure. All Garver knows is he’s more than happy with how things have turned out.
“Making it to the major leagues was about as important as it could have been,” he said. “And everything else past that has just been gravy. I want to maximize my career and be the best player I can be. Whether that means one more year, four more years, whatever.”
Something to look forward to.