04/01/08 10:54 AM ET
The new guy: Garza ready for first start
Self-described competitor anxious for new chapter with Rays
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
Matt Garza will make his first start as a Ray on Wednesday, and then the assessment begins. Were Garza, shortstop Jason Bartlett and right-hander Eduardo Morlan worthy of right fielder Delmon Young, infielder Brendan Harris and outfielder Jason Pridie, the guys Tampa Bay traded to the Twins to procure them?
Based on what Garza showed this spring, the right-hander could make Rays fans forget that Young roamed right field in a Tampa Bay uniform. After a rough outing against the Tigers his first time out on March 3, Garza had little trouble the rest of the spring, finishing with a 2.45 ERA in six starts. Take away the Detroit start, and Garza would have had a 1.88 ERA.
"He pitched primarily against some of the better teams during Spring Training and I saw some bad swings [against him]," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Unlike last spring, when he had to make the team with the Twins and did not, Garza was told by the Rays this year that he would be the team's No. 3 starter before he ever arrived in St. Petersburg. The effect had a soothing effect on the 24-year-old.
"That was huge for me, as far as being comfortable," Garza said. "Being comfortable allowed me to make the small adjustments I needed to. From now on it's just trying to keep making the small adjustments I need to and staying calm."
Maddon was not worried about any possible negative effects from giving Garza the job.
"I think he understands what was given to him," Maddon said. "I think he appreciates the opportunity."
Garza was sent down to Triple-A Rochester at the start of the 2007 season before reaching the Major Leagues on June 29, posting a 5-7 record with a 3.69 ERA in 16 games with the Twins.
"I wasn't discouraged," said Garza about the demotion. "I just kept pitching, tried to get outs. But I always felt like there was pressure on me to stay [in Minnesota].
"I've realized it's all about performing and giving your team the best chance to win. You don't want to let your team down."
In addition to a fastball that occasionally touches 97 mph, Garza has a curveball, slider and changeup.
"His stuff is better than I had read about," Maddon said. "When you see it in person, I didn't know the actual fastball was that good or the changeup was that good, either. I heard about the breaking ball."
Catcher Dioner Navarro called Garza "competitive."
"He's got that mentality that he's going to go after every batter," Navarro said. "He's going to go right after people."
Maddon said the only thing Garza is missing is a better understanding of how to put away hitters.
"There are different issues we've talked about with pitch selection and putting hitters away," Maddon said. "Once he really learns how to put a hitter away, he can be dominant."
Speaking of dominant, Garza has made three starts against the Orioles at Camden Yards and won all three, posting a 2.16 ERA in the process.
Despite his success in Baltimore, Garza won't sleep easy on Tuesday night.
"I never can sleep the night before I pitch," Garza said. "I usually can't go to sleep until 5 or 6 [in the morning]; it's just restlessness, I guess. I'll probably try to watch a movie or something."
With or without sleep, Garza said Rays fans can expect to see a competitor take the mound on Wednesday night and for the rest of the season.
"[I'm] just a competitor who is going to keep attacking, attacking, attacking and never gives in," Garza said.
If that's the case, Rays fans are going to love watching the new guy.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.