ST. PETERSBURG — Matt Garza looked pretty good for a fifth starter.
Moved to the back of the post All-Star rotation for the benefit of extra rest rather than any type of demerit, Garza finished his first half with a dominating outing, allowing just one hit over six innings in the Rays' 4-0 victory over Cleveland.
The Rays won for the ninth time in their past 11 games, improving to 53-34, second best in the majors, before 20,091 at Tropicana Field.
Three relievers teamed to finish the three-hit shutout, their sixth of the season. There were three two-out run-scoring hits, delivered by Willy Aybar, Gabe Kapler and Jason Bartlett. And the usual dose of dazzling defense, topped by Evan Longoria's diving stab at third to start a ninth-inning double play.
"Just good stuff all around," manager Joe Maddon said.
Garza capped what could politely be called an eventful week, and one he acknowledged was about as odd as he has had.
He got knocked out of Monday's start against Boston after just three innings (though throwing 84 pitches), came back to finish Wednesday's game against the Sox by getting the final two outs for his first professional save then came out strong Saturday.
"It's a very emotional week," Maddon said, "and very unusual these days. You might have seen that in 1957 possibly, or maybe 1948, but it's rare to see it in 2010."
Because of the workload, Garza knew he was on a tight pitch limit Saturday and why 88 over six innings was enough despite allowing only a second-inning single to Jhonny Peralta and two other baserunners (hit batter, walk), retiring his final 13.
"I had more intensity," he said. "I had my eye set on a goal. I knew where my limitations were, and I had to stay under control to get that done."
Garza also knew he wouldn't have his best stuff, so he forced himself — with some, um, guidance from catcher Kelly Shoppach — to rely on what works best, pounding the strike zone with his fastball.
"There's no mystery with me," Garza said. "I keep trying to make it a mystery, and it's not — just keep going with the fastball and let them try to beat me and stop beating myself."
In a season of marked inconsistency, Garza has wins in five of his past six starts and 10 overall, one off his career best.
"My season, so far, has been so up and down," he said. "It's about that time where this All-Star break is going to give me a good 3-4 days to look at myself and say, 'What's why I was most successful?' And so far what I've seen is good old No. 1. Just keep attacking until they beat me."
The offense gave him just enough support, getting big hits from two players Maddon inserted in the lineup as part of his platoon against left-handed starters that has resulted in a major-league best 22-9 record.
Kapler singled in two runs with two outs in the fourth after Ben Zobrist walked and Sean Rodriguez doubled. And with two down the next inning, Aybar singled in Longoria. Bartlett doubled in the ninth for the other run.
With one more game today before the break, the Rays want to finish strong knowing they'll see the Yankees starting Friday.
"(Today) we come out," Garza said, "do what we've got to do to win and set ourselves up for the nice little stretch run we've got coming up."