ST. PETERSBURG — Right-hander Matt Garza might have snapped a six-start winless streak Wednesday against the Phillies.
But it was how he did it that was more encouraging to both him and the Rays.
Garza got back to what he does best, being aggressive and going after hitters with his fastball, something he said he shied away from in his past six outings. As a result, he matched a season high with eight innings, yielding just three hits and one run.
"Tonight was huge," Garza said. "It was a huge personality win, as (pitching coach Jim) Hickey puts it. I got back to who I was, and that's throw my heater and say, 'Hey, beat me with this.' "
Garza (5-5, 3.61 ERA) started sharp, striking out five of the first seven batters. But he got in trouble in the fourth, walking the bases loaded with no outs. It was then that a teaching point from Hickey about being more aggressive resulted in a turning point in the game.
Garza had been relying too much on his breaking ball, and "trying to avoid hits." Garza said Hickey "put it to me gently" in a visit to the mound, telling him to "throw the dang fastball."
It worked. Garza threw a first-pitch fastball to Jayson Werth, who hit a grounder to Evan Longoria to start a 5-2-3 double play.
"It was a huge point in the game," catcher Dioner Navarro said.
Garza then struck out Matt Stairs to end the inning.
"Hickey came out and said, 'What are you doing?' And I said, 'I don't know.' " Garza said. "He just tells me to throw your fastball for a strike and you'll be fine. So I threw a first-pitch heater, and it worked. (Werth) got jammed and rolled that ball to Longo. I was like, 'Wow, why didn't I do that from the beginning?' "
Manager Joe Maddon has said he believes Garza, 25, has some of the best stuff in the American League, and he now leads the league in opponent's batting average (.210). And as Garza continues to mature, Maddon said you'll see outings such as Wednesday's on a more consistent basis.
"He was filthy," Navarro said. "He had everything going."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.