Matt Garza pitched like a man on a mission Sunday against the Dodgers, his second time out since returning from the disabled list from the lat strain that sidelined him to open the season. Garza pounded the strike zone, induced eight ground ball outs and needed just 70 pitches to get through six shutout innings.
Garza was electric and efficient — basically the opposite of the Garza who posted a 6.17 DRA, his worst season of his career. The situation with the veteran got so bad last year that his season ended with the club shutting him down for the season after Garza refused to pitch out of the bullpen. And honestly, I think that was the best thing for everybody — Garza’s heart clearly wasn’t in it in the second half of 2015, a year that was filled with injury problems before the Brewers decided to clean house and trade away a majority of their best players and throw in the towel on the season.
As a pitcher, Garza thrives on his intensity. I have a hard time blaming him for failing to summon that intensity as the Brewers lost game after game in the second half last season. In his first two starts back, Garza has been brilliant, having allowed just one run on 13 hits and a walk with seven strikeouts over 10 innings.
The Brewers aren’t as disastrous as they were last season, but they still aren’t competitive, and yet Garza has still managed to get up for his first two starts. It’s a great sign for Milwaukee, who will look to deal Garza at the trade deadline should he continue to pitch like this. Surely there will be a contender with some interest in the veteran if he can continue to show he’s healthy — he has 31 innings of playoff appearance from his time with the Rays from 2008-2010 and has 11 years of experience under his belt, and there’s never enough pitching to go around.
“All I can tell him is keep pitching — pitch your way out of it,” Garza told reporters after Jeff Samardzija indicated his frustration with the Cubs during the 2014 season. “I told him, ‘It doesn’t matter, dude. You play in Chicago. I was there, and I lost 30 wins in three seasons. It’s not your fault. You pitch your way out of there.”
Obviously the tables have turned on Garza, now stuck on an also-ran team that looks like it will have to wait years for a championship. His advice to Samardzija still applies. If Garza is unsatisfied with his situation in Milwaukee, the solution is simple: pitch your way out of it.
So far, so good. Garza is due $12.5 million for 2017 and has a option for 2018 that seems unlikely to vest given the time he has missed due to injury the last two seasons, which would give the team that acquires him a $5 million team option for 2018 as well. That’s a significant financial commitment, but considering the best starting pitcher on the free agent market next year could very well be 37-year-old Rich Hill depending on how team and mutual options fall out, Garza may be the best option for some contender not only for 2016 but for 2017 as well.
Garza was so horrible last year that he’ll have to keep this up through July for the Brewers to get any sort of haul for him — or shed some of the salary commitment — by the August 1 trade deadline. But at least we can be relatively sure he’s going to give his all in his remaining starts for the Brewers. Milwaukee isn’t going anywhere, and you know Garza is going to relish his opportunity to pitch his way out of it.