Garza Claims Second Straight Carolina League Pitcher of the Week Honor
Bob Toth | On 28, Apr 2018
Lynchburg Hillcats starting pitcher Justin Garza was named the Carolina League’s Pitcher of the Week on Tuesday for games played between April 16 and April 22.
Garza remains the only recipient of the top pitching honor in the Carolina League, after winning the first award given on the year for games played between April 5 and April 15.
The 24-year-old out of Glendora, California, continued his impressive start to the 2018 season, his third season in the Cleveland Indians farm system after being selected in the eighth round of the 2015 draft out of California State University Fullerton.
The right-hander was tough to face in his first two starts on April 8 (visiting the Down East Wood Ducks) and April 14 (hosting the Wilmington Blue Rocks). He combined to throw ten scoreless innings in the two games, allowing just four hits and two walks in the process while striking out 12 of the 35 batters that he faced.
He returned to the mound for the first time as a Pitcher of the Week winner in his professional career on April 20 as the Hillcats hit the road for Woodbridge, Virginia, to face the Potomac Nationals.
Before Garza could take the mound, he was staked to a 2-0 lead. Luke Wakamatsu reached on an error with one out, moved to third on a double by Li-Jen Chu, and scored on a second double from Emmanuel Tapia. Conner Capel drove in the second run of the inning with a grounder to first.
Garza set the stage early on, striking out the leadoff hitter Blake Perkins to start the home half before getting a pair of fly outs. A pop out and ground out preceded a called third strike to end his second inning of work.
He allowed his first run of the season in the third inning, but the run would be unearned. After a foul tip for strike three to start the inning, Potomac’s Edwin Lora was hit by a pitch. He stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error by Lynchburg catcher Logan Ice, and a sacrifice fly from Telmito Agustin pushed across the P-Nats’ first run of the game. A second base runner reached on a two-out walk by the leadoff man Perkins, but Carter Kieboom popped out in foul territory to end the inning.
Lynchburg responded with a needed run in the fourth inning as Tapia doubled to lead off the inning, moved to third on a Capel groundout, and scored on a wild pitch. The Hillcats would add one more during Garza’s stint in the game, as a sacrifice fly from Mitch Longo in the fifth made it a 4-1 game.
Garza worked around a pair of base runners in the bottom of the fourth. With one down, a fielding error by Erlin Cerda allowed a runner to reach and one out later, Garza issued his second walk of the game to put two on, but he struck out Jack Sundberg swinging to end the scoring threat. He worked a quieter fifth, striking out Lora and Agustin swinging before getting Perkins to fly to center.
He came back out to the mound in the sixth inning, his latest start of the season to date, with five hitless innings under his belt. He got two outs, getting Kieboom to fly to right before striking out Austin Davidson swinging before turning the game over to the bullpen with a season-high 90 pitches tossed on the night. Billy Strode would let a run cross after a throwing error, a hit by pitch, and an RBI-single allowed the Nationals to cut the lead to 4-2.
Lynchburg added one more insurance run in the seventh, getting three singles to fill the bags before a two-out bases loaded walk by Chu made it a 5-2 game. Potomac would score a run in the ninth and would have the bases loaded themselves before a fly ball to center ended it a 5-3 Hillcats victory.
As for Garza, he worked five and two-thirds innings of hitless baseball, flirting briefly with the feat that he accomplished during his collegiate playing days. He walked two, hit a batter, and struck out seven while allowing one unearned run to cross. The win was his second of the season in three starts and left him with microscopic pitching statistics in key categories, including a 0.00 ERA, a 0.51 WHIP, and a .082 batting average against with 19 strikeouts for the year.
Garza took the mound on Thursday night against Winston-Salem in his fourth start of the year, taking a no-decision in a 7-3 win over the Dash. He lasted four and one-third innings, allowing three runs on six hits with a walk, a hit batter, and four strikeouts. He threw a season-high 95 pitches in the outing, one short of matching his previous pro best. He left with a 6-1 lead, but did not pitch deep enough into the night to qualify for the win.
Selected twice by the Indians in the June draft (2012 out of high school and again in 2015), Garza is in his third season after missing the back half of the 2015 season and the majority of 2016 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He pitched a handful of games in the Arizona Rookie League in 2016 and spent last season at Class-A Lake County, working in 26 games while posting a 4-6 record with a 5.83 ERA and 1.50 WHIP in 95 2/3 innings for the Captains.