Los Angeles Preps: John Knott

Bonita's Garza stands tall on mound

March, 22, 2012

LA VERNE -- Justin Garza is too small, some naysayers say. He's too short, too skinny. His baggy baseball uniform accentuates these points.

The radar gun, though, doesn't discriminate. If a pitch is fast or slow, it'll say so. The 5-foot-10 right-handed pitcher has been making the gun blush a whole lot lately, lighting it up to as high as 95 miles per hour.

Justin Garza
Blair Angulo/For ESPNLA.comJustin Garza has signed with Cal State Fullerton and continues to work to get better.
That's a tall number.

"People like what they've seen from Justin, but in the pro world they want you to be 6-feet-1 or bigger," Bonita head coach John Knott says.

Garza, a converted shortstop, burst onto the scene last year, winning all 13 of his starts and allowing about half a run per game. He topped out at 83 miles per hour as a sophomore, meaning he had to learn how to pitch -- how to live on the corners and mix pitches -- before the velocity came.

"No one expected it, I didn't even expect it," says Garza, a Cal State Fullerton signee. "The main thing was to not stay content. Most people my age would say, 'I have a scholarship, I don't have to work anymore.' That's not the case with me."

Driven by critiques on his stature, Garza rolled out of bed at 5 a.m. every day last summer. He logged five-mile runs to strengthen his lower body. He lifted weights and did countless squats. He began a rigorous long-toss program and, soon, his pitches picked up speed.

The hard work paid dividends at the MLB Urban Youth preseason showcase in February, when Garza registered the second-fastest pitch, next only to elite prospect Lucas Giolito, a 6-6 right-hander out of Harvard-Westlake. Two weeks later, scouts flocked to Bonita's season opener under the lights. Garza didn't disappoint, striking out nine in a 6-0 victory over neighboring rival Damien.

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LA South: Bonita 10, Bell Gardens 0

May, 20, 2011

LA VERNE -- There were two things Justin Garza noticed as he warmed up in the bullpen Friday afternoon. His fastball had a little extra zip. His curveball had a sharper break to it.

Garza's pregame intuitions were no fluke, it turned out. The right-hander came within two outs of throwing a no-hitter, leading top-seeded Bonita to a 10-0 win against visiting Bell Gardens in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 baseball playoffs. He improved to 12-0 on the season.

"I would have liked the no-hitter," Garza said, "but, more importantly, we got the win. I felt good."

Garza struck out 10, surrendered two seventh-inning hits and walked two. It was his seventh complete game of the year in 12 starts.

"What's nice about him," Bonita coach John Knott said, "is that he stays within himself and he doesn't try to do too much. He doesn't overthrow very often."

Garza walked the second batter he faced and proceeded to retire the next 16 batters in a row. He worked ahead in the count all game, following a season-long pattern that had helped him to a 0.60 ERA heading into Friday.

"There's a big difference between a 0-and-1 count and 1-and-0 count," Garza said.

And there's a big difference between a 3-0 lead and a 0-3 deficit, too. Bonita (25-4), the Hacienda League champion, scored three in the first, giving Garza some leeway to pound the strike zone. Nolan Henley blew the game open with a three-run shot in the fifth.

The Bearcats tacked on three in the sixth. Despite the double-digit lead, Knott said he didn't even think about taking Garza out of the game.

"We could have pitched somebody else," Knott said, "but stuff like that happens once in a blue moon."

Garza struck out Albert Flores to start the seventh. Danny Romero spoiled the no-hit bid with a liner down the third-base line. Bell Gardens (14-9) finally had something to cheer for.

"Justin was sharp," Knott said. "He was effective with all of his pitches, just like he's been all year."