ST. PETERSBURG — RHP Matt Garza was trying Thursday to bounce back from his last start, a loss to the Blue Jays in which he said he didn't come out as focused and aggressive as he would have liked.
So even when the Rays gave Garza a nine-run, third-inning lead against the Royals — a "huge help," he said — he continued to go after hitters. And it paid off in the 26-year-old's first career win over Kansas City (in seven appearances), helping him tie a club record with his fourth win in April (also done by Andy Sonnanstine in 2008). Garza (4-1, 2.06 ERA) gave up one run over six innings and tied his season high with nine strikeouts.
Manager Joe Maddon said Garza had "really good stuff," but his fastball command was off just a bit; the Royals, however, were left impressed.
"Garza had tremendous command to both sides of the plate with his fastball; and his curveball, I've seen it before, but it was as deep if not deeper," Royals manager Trey Hillman said. "And he really didn't need to bring his changeup out of his bag, but he did just to add a little insult to injury."
STEPPING IN: RHP Joaquin Benoit said he was relieved to rejoin the Rays on Thursday, and it was not just because he escaped the colder weather in Buffalo, N.Y., where he was with Triple-A Durham.
"The big leagues is the big leagues," he said. "You cannot have anything better than this."
Benoit, 32, a veteran of eight major-league seasons with Texas, was also eager to show what he can do after missing last season because of rotator cuff surgery, and after being Tampa Bay's final cut in spring training.
He didn't have to wait long to contribute, throwing a scoreless seventh Thursday, giving up a walk and a hit, with one strikeout, in his first big-league appearance since Sept. 7, 2008.
"He looked good, very physical, good fastball got up to 95 (mph)," Maddon said. "Didn't really have good command of (his changeup), but he's going to."
Maddon said he is comfortable using Benoit in high-leverage situations, against left- or right-handers, similar to how he uses RHP Lance Cormier.
Benoit did well in Durham, posting a 2.79 ERA and a ratio of 17 strikeouts to three walks. "It was really comfortable to see that I can still do it," he said. "After surgery, you don't know what can happen."
Benoit worked in back-to-back outings just once in Durham, but Maddon said he could pitch on consecutive days now.
CATCHING ON: C Dioner Navarro, back after a two-game suspension, says his sore right leg is feeling better and he's ready to play.
But Maddon said he started John Jaso because the rookie has been playing so well. Jaso went 1-for-2 with three walks Thursday and is hitting .455 with 10 RBIs. "He's been hot right now, quite frankly, just could not walk away from Jaso right now," Maddon said before the game. "I told (Navarro) straight up; he's a great team player. It's not very complicated. Jaso has been playing that well."
Howell UPDATE: LHP J.P. Howell said he felt good enough to throw again Thursday, one day after his first mound session since being diagnosed with left shoulder weakness in spring training. He will throw off the mound again today, incorporating more changeups, another hurdle in his recovery. Late May is still the target date for his return..