The Carolina League announced on Monday night that Lynchburg Hillcats right-hander Justin Garza had been named the league’s Pitcher of the Week for games played between April 5 and April 15.
Garza won the first Pitcher of the Week award of his career after making a pair of scoreless starts for Lynchburg, earning a win and taking a no-decision to start his 2018 season.
The 24-year-old made his season debut against the Down East Wood Ducks at City Stadium in Lynchburg on April 8 in game two of a doubleheader. He was in good command of the strike zone throughout the game, throwing 48 of his 66 pitches in five innings of work for strikes. He struck out seven, walked one, and gave up just a pair of hits in the seven-inning contest. Teammate Ben Krauth completed his strong start to the game with two innings of one-hit relief to finish the three-hit shutout of the Texas Rangers’ High-A affiliate.
Garza started out on fire, striking out the side in the first in his first action of the season. He worked around some traffic in the second after a leadoff walk to cleanup hitter Brendon Davis, but a double play grounder saved a run as the next batter doubled to right. That base runner would move to third on a passed ball by Lynchburg backstop Logan Ice, but Garza recorded his fourth strikeout of the game to strand the go-ahead run 90 feet from the plate.
The righty added another strikeout in the third and one more in the fourth to start the inning. He would give up his second hit of the game with one out in the fourth, but that runner would be forced at second to end the inning. In his final inning of work in the fifth and pitching with the lead for the first time after Trenton Brooks’ RBI-single in the bottom of the fourth, Garza got a line out, a called third strike, and a fly out. Krauth earned his first save of the season while securing Garza’s first win.
Garza returned to the mound on April 14 in Wilmington against the Blue Rocks and again left the game in a position to win.
He started the night a little shaky, walking the first batter of the game before plunking the next. A big caught stealing retired the first out before Garza struck out the next two batters swinging to get out of the jam. He returned to the mound with a one-run lead in the next inning and settled down, retiring the side in order in the second and third. He was given another run of support in the top of the fourth before the Blue Rocks recorded their first hit of the game with a two-out single in the home half, but a grounder to first ended that inning.
Garza looked to protect a 2-0 lead in the fifth and he did exactly that, getting a pop up to third before a double gave the Blue Rocks their second hit of the day. A strikeout and another out in the air ended the inning and Garza’s outing, his second straight scoreless five and fly.
Unlike his first start, the Hillcats bullpen was unable to protect the lead. A five-run seventh inning by Wilmington, including four runs off of Luis Jimenez and another off of Billy Strode, swung all of the momentum in favor of the Blue Rocks, who held on to a 5-2 victory.
In two starts this season, Garza has pitched ten scoreless innings, allowing four hits and two walks, hitting one batter, and striking out 12 of the 35 men that he has faced.
Garza is in his third season of work in the Indians’ farm system after being selected in the eighth round by Cleveland out of Cal State Fullerton in the June 2015 amateur draft (he was previously selected by the Indians out of high school with a 26th round pick in 2012). He appeared in four games in the Arizona Rookie League in 2016 and worked exclusively at Lake County last season, posting a 4-6 record with three saves in three chances, a 5.86 ERA, and a 1.49 WHIP in eight starts and 18 relief appearances.
He is scheduled to make his next start on Friday, April 20, in Potomac against the Nationals in game two of a four-game set.
Photo: Lindsay Carico/Lynchburg Hillcats