3/2/2014 7:52 P.M. ET
Garza's debut gives Crew preview of intensity
Whether Spring Training or Opening Day, emotions remain heightened
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- For 9,227 fans at Salt River Fields on Sunday, it was just another sunny Spring Training game, but for Matt Garza, this was something more. When he takes the mound, it is almost always something more.
"I couldn't sleep last night," Garza said. "I went to sleep early, but it was 3 o'clock, wake up; 4 o'clock, wake up; 5 o'clock, wake up; 6 o'clock, wake up. My wife was like, 'Go to sleep!' But she knows every year, it's the same thing."
You don't hear things like that very often in the Cactus League, especially not from an eight-year veteran whose spot in the Brewers' starting rotation was secured the moment Garza signed a $50 million, four-year contract.
It was the richest deal in club history for a free agent, and it meant Garza could be the kind of guy who shows up to camp, gets his work in and doesn't lose any sleep about Spring Training games.
But Garza is not that kind of guy, which may help explain why pitching in a Brewers uniform for the first time meant something on Sunday, and why he struggled equally to contain his adrenaline and the Colorado Rockies. Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki and Co. touched Garza for four runs on four hits and two walks in the first inning of what became a 6-5 Brewers win at Salt River Fields.
Garza's first inning in a Brewers uniform was also his last for now. Asked how many pitches he threw, Garza said, "Um, roughly… too many."
"Well, he was just all over the place," manager Ron Roenicke said with a shrug of his shoulders. "But hey, he got in a lot of pitches. He's an aggressive guy, and he does get amped up. He's got to get where his arm strength is enough that it matches his rhythm and everything is in sync. That's what we always said about him, is that when he gets in a rhythm, he's really good. When you're against him, you try not to let him get in that rhythm."
Garza called the game a mental workout, explaining that "everything was just fast and flying for me."
How does he plan to remedy that?
"Just letting it run out," Garza said. "This is a process. I have a history of not very good springs. I don't, like, take pride in that, but I take pride in my work, and I get it done. When the bell rings, I'm ready to go. However I need to get there, I'm going to get there."
The good news, Garza said, was that his body felt great. He threw only fastballs and changeups, firing a couple of good ones early in the inning before things got away.
It should not surprise anyone that Garza was amped up for a Spring Training game, he said.
"You guys might say, 'It's spring,' but for me it's a baseball game, you know?" Garza said. "You can't train with the same intensity or the same adrenaline that you get from facing big league hitters, from stepping out on the mound to get going.
A couple of Garza's new Brewers teammates know.
Aramis Ramirez manned third base for Garza in Chicago in 2011, Ramirez's final season with the Cubs before he signed a three-year deal with the Brewers. Garza had just arrived in Chicago after a big offseason trade with the Tampa Bay Rays, a move that paid off to the tune of 31 starts and a 3.32 ERA that first season.
"Even when he's not pitching, he's out there," Ramirez said. "Even when he's not pitching, you're going to hear him and see him on the top step of the dugout. I think we need some of that. You guys are going to like him. Everybody in Milwaukee is going to like him."
Sean Halton likes him. Halton played some first base and outfield for the Brewers last season and is among a cast of players in camp with an eye on first base in 2014. He goes way back with Garza because they are both from Fresno, Calif., and Halton played baseball from a young age with Garza's brother. They have worked out together in the offseason every year since Halton was drafted by the Brewers in 2009.
When Garza threw his no-hitter against the Tigers in 2010, Halton was in the stands as a guest. When Halton was called up to the Majors in 2013, Garza called with congratulations. When Halton got his first Major League hit the next day, Garza was the pitcher. When Garza finalized his contract with the Brewers, Halton was among the first to know.
"We go way back," Halton said. "I've known him long before I was batting 1.000 against him."
How competitive is Garza?
"We talked for a couple of years previous about facing each other," Halton said. "He always said, 'I'm going to come right at you and blow you by.'"
But when that moment arrived, Halton said with a laugh, "First pitch is off-speed. Breaking ball."
Garza wanted to win the at-bat more than he wanted to keep his vow to fire fastballs.
"He's a fun, energetic guy, and I think he's exactly what this clubhouse needs," Halton said. "You can see just in the last couple of weeks his assertiveness as a leader. I think he's taking on that role really well, and I think it's going to help everybody out."
Garza's history says he will help the Brewers more often than not, assuming he can stay healthy and continue to settle in with his new team.
"I was telling my wife today, I'm the most relaxed I've been in a couple of years because I know what's going on and I know that it's permanent," Garza said. "I'm fully embracing that, and I'm enjoying that. I'm not upset today. I'm just happy to get this thing going, finally. No more five hours in the weight room doing workouts.
"It's, 'Let's go! Play ball!'"