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Time for Garza to realize potential

Jul 27, 2010, 1:33 AM EDT

Matt Garza – to paraphrase Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis – has a gift. When he was a baby, the gods reached down and turned his right arm into a thunderbolt.

On Monday, the Tampa Bay right-hander unleashed that gift on the Detroit Tigers, dazzling them with an array of high, hard fastballs and tight-spinning breaking balls on the way to the first no-hitter in Rays history, and the fifth in Major League Baseball this season.

It was an impressive outing. Twenty-seven men came to the plate, and Garza allowed only one of them to reach base — Brennan Boesch, on a second-inning walk — and he was immediately erased on a Ryan Raburn double-play grounder.

There was a leaping catch by Ben Zobrist to rob Danny Worth in the sixth inning, and there was a frightening line drive by Miguel Cabrera hit directly to Carl Crawford in the eighth. And yes, this was a depleted Tigers lineup playing without the services of Magglio Ordonez, Brandon Inge and Carlos Guillen. But it was still a dominant performance.

As Rays manager Joe Maddon told the AP, “They’re all major league players and it’s a no-hitter. They’re not going to make any excuses, I know that.”

The question now, though, is how will Garza follow up the most noteworthy outing of his career? Will this signal the rise of a star, or will Garza settle back into the sometimes-great, sometimes-mediocre rhythm that has so far marked his young career?

Garza will never be Bud Smith, the Cardinals left-hander who emerged from nowhere to throw a no-hitter as a rookie in 2001, only to fade back into obscurity shortly thereafter. In his fifth season in the majors and with a 2008 ALCS MVP award under his belt, Garza has already lapped Smith.

But can he build on this and finally move into the upper echelon of elite right-handers? Can he become Roy Halladay, or at least Justin Verlander? Garza has shown signs of potential greatness in the past. In 2008, he baffled the Florida Marlins with a one-hitter. He had arrived, it seemed, and went on to go 11-9 with a 3.70 ERA in just his first full season in the majors.

But his development has not come as hoped by Rays fans. His temper has gotten the better of him at times, and his ERA, WHIP and home run rate have risen in each of the last two seasons. Meanwhile, it has been David Price – not Garza – who has emerged as the ace of a young Tampa staff.

Garza is now 26, and entering what should be his prime. He is no-longer the wild-eyed rookie, but a young veteran with World Series experience. He’s sitting on a career record just south of .500 and an ERA just north of 4.00. The time is now for both to improve.

Garza told the St. Petersburg Times that he paced the hallway connecting dugout to clubhouse between each inning on Monday, clutching a towel in his hand and practicing his pitching motion.

“I had to keep reminding myself that this is how it’s supposed to feel,” Garza said. “That’s all I said, over and over. This is how it’s supposed to feel.”

This is how it’s supposed to feel. If Garza can finally figure that out, the Rays will be very happy, indeed.

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  1. Matt S. - Jul 27, 2010 at 8:21 AM

    He’s only 26? Wow.
    I remember him coming through Rochester (Twins’ AAA), and that seems like forever ago.
    Good for him – he’s always a guy I root for.

  2. BC - Jul 27, 2010 at 9:14 AM

    I saw him pitch for New Britain (Twins AA) a while back. Absolutely devastating stuff. Fastball really moves and he can crank it up to 97 or 98 when he needs to.
    You never know, though. Maybe his emotions mess with things. Or if you completely dominate coming through the minors, then in the majors you don’t, that has to mess with you.
    I remember seeing Todd Stottlemyre years ago when he first came up – sat right behind home plate in I think the old stadium in Cleveland. His pitches moved all over the place – I think he threw like a 4-hit shutout. I was convinced he was going to be really good. Ending up being serviceable, but I wouldn’t call him even above average. Pitching is a fickle thing, I guess.

  3. malavya - Jul 27, 2010 at 10:52 AM

    You should get fined. You’re always supposed to say ‘wide-eyed rookie,’ not ‘wild-eyed’

  4. ryanbyrne19 - Jul 27, 2010 at 1:08 PM

    In defense of Bud Smith he was a top prospect for St Louis’s (#39 rated by Baseball America) when he was a rookie in 2001. He finished 4th in the ROY voting that year. His no hitter wasn’t any more out of no where than Braden or Galarraga. I think he hurt his arm which lead to his quick downfall.

  5. Ick McWang - Jul 27, 2010 at 10:18 PM

    Garza has phenomenal stuff. His only problem in the years I’ve watched him on the Rays is that he sometimes can’t control his emotions, or lets a bad call get in his head, and gets shelled for 4 or 5 batters. He could win 20 games if he can get his head right.

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