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Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Matt Garza cures part of what ails Rangers

By Bill Baer

If not for an untimely three-base throwing error on a ground ball back up the middle, Matt Garza might have held the Yankees scoreless all night in his Rangers debut. Overall, Garza went 7⅓ innings, allowed five hits, walked none and struck out five on 95 pitches.

Garza made a great first impression as part of a new and improved Rangers rotation. Beginning in spring training, Rangers starters have been ravaged by injuries or lackluster performance all season long. They are one of eight teams with one or zero starters to have made 20 or more starts at this point in the season.

The litany of injuries started early. Martin Perez, one of several candidates for the fifth slot in the rotation in spring training, had his left forearm broken by a line drive hit back up the middle in March. Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz both had to undergo elbow surgery last year and have yet to return to action this season. Matt Harrison had to deal with an inflamed nerve in his back, and he might not return until late August.

The Rangers opened the season with rookie Nick Tepesch in the rotation, soon followed by Justin Grimm. Neither made matters better for the Rangers: Prior to his inclusion in the Garza trade with the Cubs, Grimm posted a 6.37 ERA in 17 starts with the Rangers, while Tepesch was at 4.85 in 16 starts before landing on the DL with inflammation in his right elbow after his start on July 6.
Matt Garza
If not for one misplay, Matt Garza might have finished his Rangers debut unscored upon.

Through it all, Derek Holland and Yu Darvish have been the backbone of the Rangers pitching staff. Holland has a 3.10 ERA and Darvish has a 2.86 ERA and a league-leading 161 strikeouts. Sabermetrically, both rank in the top 10 among AL starters by Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP), a stat that estimates ERA based on strikeouts, walks, and fly balls. Darvish has a 2.82 xFIP, second best in the league, while Holland ranks 10th at 3.48. If the playoffs were comprised of best-of-three series, the Rangers would be good to go. They just had no one to rely on beyond those two.

Enter Garza. He had been fantastic all season with the Cubs, posting a 3.17 ERA over 11 starts since making his season debut on May 21 after recovering from a right lat strain. The Rangers entered tonight 10 games over .500 and only three games behind the Oakland Athletics. Replacing whatever amalgamation of starters the Rangers would have ended up using in the No. 5 spot -- while pushing everyone else down a spot -- Garza is a tremendous boon with a little more than two months remaining.

This is not to say that Garza is the panacea for all that ails the Rangers. They still have issues in the outfield, as the combination of David Murphy in left and Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry in center haven’t added up to big numbers on offense. The Rangers are also worried that right fielder Nelson Cruz might be suspended like Ryan Braun for his involvement in the Biogenesis issue. According to reports, the Rangers have expressed some interest in right fielders Alex Rios of the White Sox and Hunter Pence of the Giants.

Garza was one half of the equation for fixing the Rangers in season. With the addition of an outfielder before the deadline, the Rangers will have everything they need to compete for the AL West title and go to battle in the postseason. A top four of Harrison, Darvish, Garza and Holland is as formidable as any in baseball. The Rangers' bullpen has been unhittable for four months.

As for Garza himself, he simply has to continue doing what he has done throughout his career, which is rely on fastballs and sliders to induce ground balls and limit home runs. Since 2007, his ERA has had a remarkably thin range between 2.87 (2013) and 3.95 (2009). That is the type of consistency the Rangers will need as they prepare for what they hope is a second-half surge that pushes them into postseason action.