Just over a month ago, a lot of people across the blogging community were discussing the possible call-up of Matt Garza. He had dominated Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A and was on the cusp of the major leagues. Many started making the standard reference to the episode of Adam Johnson from 2001 and 2002.
As many recall, Johnson was drafted second overall in the 2000 draft and sped through the minor leagues. He posted a 2.47 ERA in 69 1/3 Single-A innings with 92 Ks, a 3.82 ERA in 110 Double-A innings with 113 Ks, and a 5.70 ERA in 23 2/3 Triple-A innings with 25 Ks. The talent never translated to the bigs, though he was clearly rushed. In 2001, he posted an 8.28 ERA in 25 innings and followed that with a 47.25 ERA in 2003, giving up seven earned runs in 1 1/3 innings. Johnson left the organization shortly thereafter.
Of course, Garza was far more dominant at all minor league stops than Johnson was, striking out more batters, showing more control, and giving up less hits. Garza has a 5.40 ERA so far in the bigs, having given up 48 hits and 26 runs in 41 2/3 innings while striking out 31 and walking 18. He has a 2-5 record. Naturally, those aren't phenomenal numbers to write home about, but like Boof Bonser, watching him pitch recently tells a different story.
For one, he wasn't helped last night by Jesse Crain, just like Bonser in his last start. More importantly, Bonser and Garza are both getting better right when they need to, as they'll be keys to any Twins post-season success. If you payed attention to Garza yesterday, you probably noticed a few big changes.
For one, he stopped trying to throw 96 on every pitch. Instead, he started following the "Anderson" routine. Using a two-seamer on the inside corner coming in around 90-91 mph, getting strikes before working his change-up and slider into the mix. When he needed to, he would pump a 93-96 mph four seamer high or on the outside corner as an out pitch. This worked very effectively against David Ortiz, as he blew a fastball by him in the sixth inning for a strikeout.
By utilitizing more two-seamers, Garza is better able to control the damage against him. In such big losses as against New York (4/9 GB/FB ration) and the bad start in Oakland recently (3/5), Garza gave up way too many flyballs. In his best starts, like yesterday (6/7) and his 5 2/3 innings in support of Liriano last week (10/6) , Garza has either had more ground balls or kept the ratio mild. There is first start, against Toronto, that is an outlier (6/6 ratio), but I think the point is, the more Garza controls the zone, utlilizes the two-seamer on the inside corner to bust lefties and to get groundballs, the more effective he'll be with his other pitches and in general. The results haven't been spectacular and no one wants another Jesse Crain-like strikeout to groundball pitcher translation, but if he keeps it up, he can strike out plenty while getting a lot of ground balls and keeping the ball in the park, a la Francisco Liraino.
What I see is a major transition for Garza. When he first came up, he threw way too many four-seamers high in the zone and didn't use his breaking stuff enough. Now, he is quickly transitioning, adjusting, and learning on the job. With Garza on the right track, he gives the Twins another excellent option for their playoff rotation or bullpen. Needless to say, Garza's progress has been excellent, despite whatever the overall numbers might suggest.
As for the rest of the game, the offense certainly broke out against knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. Jason Bartlett hit a three-run jack, Torii Hunter had a two-run home run for his 27th, and Justin Morneau went 5-for-5 with two doubles and a RBI. Once again, he completely destroyed the platoon the Red Sox attempted against him. In three at-bats against Red Sox left-handed relievers, Morneau went 3-for-3 with a double and an RBI. His RBI single in the ninth off of Javier Lopez was particularly impressive, as he fought back after going to an 0-2 count quickly and wound up taking a pitch over the shortstop into left field. His .326 average is amazing, but so is his ability to consistently hit left-handers now.
Today, Boof will take the mound. As with Garza, the hope is he can continue to progress, becoming more of a pitcher that will only help the Twins post-season chances more and more.