It has been a weird week for Matt Garza. He failed to see the fourth inning in Monday's start against the Red Sox after tossing 2.2 innings of shutout baseball. Because of that, he was available in relief on Wednesday against the same Boston team. With Rafael Soriano and Joaquin Benoit unavailable that night, Garza was called upon in the ninth inning and registered his first career save.
Just three days later, he rebounded quite nicely tossing six innings of shutout, one-hit ball against the Cleveland Indians en route to his 10th win of the season. Garza didn't have his struck out stuff - only two strikeouts - but did his best David Price impression on the evening.
Garza threw 40 fastballs in his first 47 pitches. And a total 69 heaters out of 88 pitches overall. Although the strikeouts and swinging strikes were not there, Garza had wonderful control. He threw 72% strikes and walked just one batter.
Because of the weird week of usage, Joe Maddon decided to end Garza's night after six innings. After what we saw in Friday's game with James Shields extended for a batter too much, and the subsequent usage of non-elite relief pitchers, Maddon used a few studs from the bullpen this evening. Grant Balfour worked a scoreless seventh inning. He was followed by Joaquin Benoit, who was perfect in the eight. Finally, non-stud, Lance Cormier worked a (eventful) scoreless ninth with a four-run lead to preserve the shutout - giving Rafael Soriano another day of rest*.
*Soriano was ready before the inning started. He's going to get rest over the next few days even if he pitches in the All-Star game. I know it wasn't a save situation, but Maddon is not Trey Hillman. He was warm already, use him. You only have him for a few more months anyway.
As for the Rays offense, it was more of the same. At times, it looked like the Rays would never score a run. This was highlighted by two groundball double plays off the bat of Evan Longoria with runners at first and second base. The team had base runners in each of their eight frames - leaving men stranded in each as well.
Meanwhile, when it mattered most, the offense provided just enough to get the win. The much maligned Gabe Kapler got the start in left field and came up with a big two-out, two RBI single in the fourth inning. Kapler's post-game interview was a thing of beauty as he avoided cliches of "turning the corner," or comparing the Rays of two months ago to the Rays of today. He even preached small sample sizes.
Kapler's bench mate, Willy Aybar added an RBI single of his own in the next inning. - scoring Longoria, who laced a two-out double off the low wall in left field. The Rays scored another two-out run in the eighth inning on a bloop RBI single off the bat of Jason Bartlett.
After playing some close, tense games lately, it was nice to bring one home with a soft landing. Couple that with a Red Sox loss and the Rays gain a 3 game lead on Boston.
Let's continue the strong finish to the first half.