Garza's fastball will hold the key to his post-no-hitter development
Matt Garza's fastball routinely hit the 91-93 mph range against the Tigers
Garza can be a devastating force on the mound when keeping things simple
The Tigers deserve some credit for trotting out an inferior lineup against Garza
Matt Garza stepped to the mound Monday night an enigma, an enormously talented pitcher who seemed to be taking one small step back every year. Passed by David Price, outpitched by Jeff Niemann, Garza might have been closer to being traded for a middle-of-the-order hitter -- and to create room for uberprospect Jeremy Hellickson -- than to greatness.
Garza leapt off the mound Monday carrying a piece of history, having re-established himself as a key contributor to the second-best team in baseball. Overwhelming the Tigers in the simplest way possible, Garza threw the first no-hitter in Rays history and the fifth in four months of the 2010 season. Along the way, Garza reduced pitching to four words: You can't hit this.
On a typical night, Garza will throw his fastball on about seven of every 10 pitches, mixing in a slider, curve and change-up on the rest of his deliveries. It made him frustrating to watch at times, as his fastball -- which was 91-93 according to MLB.com and, according to Fangraphs, averages more than 93 mph on the season -- is more than good enough to beat major-league hitters. Last night, Garza threw 120 pitches, and a whopping 101 were fastballs. His first 14 pitches were all fastballs, and in four of his nine innings, he threw no more than one pitch other than the heater. He threw away his change-up and mixed in nine sliders and 10 curves, nearly half of the breaking pitches coming in the last two innings.
It was an overpowering performance, so much so that there was no DeWayne Wise moment, no diving stop, no official scorer's decision to hang a memory on. Ben Zobrist misread Danny Worth's fly ball in the third, then ran it down for the out. Carl Crawford nearly lost Miguel Cabrera's eighth-inning line drive in the lights. There were a handful of nice plays by the infield. With all that, at no point did the Tigers get close to a hit. They were dominated by Garza.
You cannot tell the story of this game without acknowledging that the Tigers limped into the Tropicana Dome at the nadir of their season. Having gotten zeroes from shortstop and catcher all year, a brutal week of injuries has them down three starters in Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen and Brandon Inge. Last night's lineup featured a middle infield with fewer than 100 MLB at-bats, two bench players in Ryan Raburn and Don Kelly, and the .185 bat of Gerald Laird. Just as the Tigers' own Armando Galarraga picked on an injury-riddled Indians team in his near-perfect game, Garza was able to overpower a lineup that had four, maybe five major-league hitters in it.
Last night's start is over. What's important now is whether Garza can apply the lessons learned to take a step forward in his development. He started 23 of 27 hitters with a fastball, and while he was 1-0 more often than not, using the fastball, his best pitch, set the tone for his night. He may not be able to get away with junking his breaking stuff completely against better lineups, but the lesson here isn't that he has to throw all fastballs -- he just has to throw more fastballs. If he sticks with what worked last night, it's possible that throwing a no-hitter won't be the only Rays history he gets to make in 2010.