ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays sorely needed a long outing from RHP Matt Garza on Saturday afternoon to help rest their recently overburdened bullpen.
And Garza came through against the Indians with his third straight win, giving up just two runs while tossing a career-high 120 pitches over six innings, including a gutsy, 41-pitch sixth that ended with an 11-pitch duel with Luis Valbuena.
"There's probably no one we want on the mound more than Matt right now," reliever Joe Nelson said. "120 pitches to him, he'll do it every start if he needs to. He's one of our studs."
But Garza, who has lasted at least seven innings in five of his eight starts (as many as the other four Rays starters combined), was disappointed he couldn't deliver more.
"I was a little upset at myself; I wanted to get through seven to save our (bullpen)," Garza said. "We haven't really done our job, and I wanted to set the tone and get us back on seven (innings)."
Garza said that despite having good stuff, he wasn't as efficient as he wanted, citing some bad pitch selection and saying he felt "lucky" to get the win. "120 (pitches) to get through six is never a good number," he said.
It was Saturday. In the four games since Garza's last outing, Rays starters had compiled a 10.57 ERA in stints of two, five (twice) and 31/3 innings. Manager Joe Maddon said Garza is "one of those rare pitchers that is able to throw as well on his 120th pitch as his first pitch."
Garza, who gave up three straight hits to start the sixth, ended it by getting Valbuena — who had fouled off four straight 3-and-2 pitches — to pop out. "It was a battle," Garza said. "An all-out battle."
Nellie time: Nelson said he "definitely needed to have a good outing" Saturday, coming off his recent struggles, and he certainly delivered, retiring three tough hitters in a 1-2-3 ninth for his second save of the season. Nelson, who had given up 10 hits and eight runs in his previous six appearances, thanked Maddon afterward for showing confidence in him. "I guess his M.O. in the past is he always pitches well in tight games," Maddon said. "And he showed that today."
Work the plate: RHP Andy Sonnanstine, coming off the shortest outing of his career (two innings), said he hasn't been pitching inside enough, and he noticed a lot of teams "get locked in on the outer half with me."
"There were a lot of pitches that were catching a little bit too much plate," he said. "The big thing on this next start is working both sides of the plate. … By going in a little bit more, it'll open up the other side."
On the mend: DH Pat Burrell, who has missed five games with neck stiffness, will be re-evaluated today, with Maddon saying he could return to the lineup Monday or Tuesday.
On the run: The Rays' three steals marked the 18th consecutive game they've had one, most by an AL team in 95 years. The 1914 Yankees had 19 straight.
Outstanding Evan: Evan Longoria received the Players Choice Award for 2008 AL outstanding rookie, selected from a secret ballot of AL players.
Imitation time: The Durham Bulls also overcame a seven-run deficit to win with a walkoff homer Friday night. OF Chris Richard hit a grand slam in the 11th for the 13-9 victory, his second slam of the game. He became the fifth International League player and first since 1957 to have two in one game.
Minor matters: RHP Jason Isringhausen threw a 1-2-3 inning of relief for Durham on Friday. OF Matt Joyce returned to Durham's lineup after missing two games with quad tightness.
Miscellany: Longoria and Gabe Gross will sign autographs for kids 14 and younger from noon to 12:30 today. … There will be a Rays Broadcast Auction today to benefit the Hillsborough & Pinellas Education Foundation.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.