Seemingly every scout who covered the teams who train on Florida's Gulf Coast this spring predicted that Rays righthander Matt Garza was ready for a breakout season. They felt Garza, who has always possessed good stuff, was showing more determination and better poise on the mound. Garza has certainly been proving the scouts right in the early days of the 2010 season. He turned in a sparkling effort Monday night in pitching the Rays to a 5-1 victory over the Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Garza allowed one run and six hits in eight innings with three walks and five strikeouts while throwing 64 of 103 pitches for strikes. Manager Joe Maddon said he would have allowed Garza to finish if not for wanting to get closer Rafael Soriano an inning of work. Monday night's outing, coupled with his stifling of the Orioles last week at Tropicana Field, makes Garza 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA and .179 opponents batting average allowed through two starts.
Maddon was pleased with some signs of maturity from the 26-year-old. Garza gave up a leadoff home run to Felix Pie in the bottom of the first inning then walked Pie and Nick Markakis in the third before inducing Miguel Tejada to ground into an inning-ending force out.
"In the past, giving up the home run and walking the two guys in the one inning would have really bothered Matt and those innings could have turned ugly," Maddon said. "Tonight, he shrugged both of those things off and got people out. You're watching a pitcher grow up before your very eyes when you see that kind of stuff."
Garza, rather surprisingly, was bothered by his performance. "I know the linescore looks good and everyone will say I pitched a good game but walking three guys is ridiculous," Garza said. "It really bothers me to walk that many guys. I can't just put guys on base. I'd rather give up a solo home run than just giving the guy the base. It's not acceptable."
OK, it might not have been a Maddux-esque performance but Garza threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 31 batters he faced and has issued just five bases on balls in 16 innings in his first two starts. That's a fairly impressive turnaround for a pitcher who was tied for second in the American League in walks last year with 79, behind only the Yankees' A.J. Burnett (97). In 2008, Garza walked 2.9 per nine and had a 3.70 ERA. Last year, his walk rate shot up to 3.5 and his ERA rose to 3.95. If he can maintain his current rate (2.8), expect another drop in his ERA. Of course, he won't face the Orioles every time out, but Rays fans have to be encouraged by what they've seen so far from Garza.
John Perrotto is the editor-in-chief of Baseball Prospectus.