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Tampa Bay Rays' Matt Garza reduces walks during spring training

Matt Garza, who pitched five scoreless innings against the Mets, allows just six walks over 272/3 spring innings. Two of those come Friday.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Matt Garza, who pitched five scoreless innings against the Mets, allows just six walks over 272/3 spring innings. Two of those come Friday.

ST. PETERSBURG — RHP Matt Garza said his big emphasis this spring was cutting down on his walks.

Allowing a career-high 79 last season, he knew by "making hitters participate," and trusting his defense, it could pay off.

Considering Garza walked just six in 272/3 spring innings, mission accomplished.

"He's just right now understanding that let his pitches work, let it eat, because his stuff is that good," manager Joe Maddon said. "It's more of a realization at this point. He knows, 'My stuff is good. Let them put the ball in play, and my defense will catch it.' "

Friday's game was a perfect example. In the first four innings, he watched CF B.J. Upton track down balls in the gap. And after Garza walked two in the fifth, 2B Reid Brignac dived to his left to rob Mets 1B Fernando Tatis of a potential RBI single.

In all, he allowed one hit and the two walks and struck out six in five scoreless innings.

"Outstanding," Garza said of Brignac's play. "The big thing is I know I can give up a few fly balls and my guys will track them down and catch them. My defense played amazing. I've been spoiled right there."

While Garza (2-1, 2.28 ERA) said he has had other good springs, this is the one he feels "most comfortable with," because all of the work he has put in to improve on things is paying off.

"Now I'm trying to stay with it and maintain," he said.

GAME DETAILS: The Rays won 4-2, giving them at 20-8-2 the best spring record in the majors. … LHP Randy Choate pitched a scoreless inning and did not allow an earned run in his past five outings. … DH Pat Burrell had an RBI double and C Kelly Shoppach, who hit .361 this spring, an RBI single.

SHORT STINT?: OF Matt Joyce (elbow strain), who will start the season on the disabled list, took the news in stride, saying it probably won't be a lengthy stay.

With his assignment backdated to March 26, he'd be eligible to come off the DL on April 10. And Maddon said it's possible Joyce could be ready not too much longer after that.

Joyce said he's taking five days off from throwing but will resume Monday and continue to work on other parts of his game.

"It's disappointing. But at the same time, it's what I've got to deal with," Joyce said. "I've got to get ready for when I'm going to be ready to play."

MINOR MATTERS: RHP Jeremy Hellickson, one of the Rays' top prospects, made quite an impression in spring training even though he ended up at Triple-A Durham. And while he's starting for the Bulls today against Tampa Bay, Hellickson said he doesn't feel any extra pressure.

"I know where I'm going. I'll be in Durham," he said. "So there's no point in putting more on my shoulders than I have to and try to impress anybody."

Trade: The Rays acquired RH reliever Virgil Vazquez from the Pirates for cash considerations, a deal for Triple-A depth.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays' Matt Garza reduces walks during spring training 04/03/10 [Last modified: Saturday, April 3, 2010 2:42pm]

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