PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- If spring training performances are any indication of what the future holds, life looks good for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010.
Matt Garza pitched seven strong innings and was bolstered by an early offensive outburst as the Rays cruised to an 8-2 victory over a Pittsburgh Pirates split-squad on Sunday."I like the way we are playing right now," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "We're hitting the ball well and running the bases well. It's the way you want to play all the time."And with consecutive strong starts from rotation leaders Garza and James Shields, it's easy to see why the Rays are going into the regular season with a lot of momentum."Those two guys are setting the tone for the rest of the team," Maddon added. "Garza was real sharp today."The Rays' offense also appears more than capable of big things this season.Ben Zobrist had a home run and three RBI, and Carl Crawford added two doubles and scored three times. The Rays led 7-1 after three innings.That was more than enough for Garza, who struck out seven and gave up four hits in a smooth outing."This is what spring training is for," Garza said. "You want to get better with each start and get to this point where you're ready for the season."Garza is scheduled to pitch the second game of the regular season against Baltimore. He sent down the first five batters he faced, and once equipped with a six-run lead he retired the Pirates in order in the fourth and fifth innings."This is what we are capable of and this is what we have to do to reach our goals," Garza said. "We want to play deep in October this season. I'm ready to get out of here and get back to St. Pete so we can get this going."Zobrist started the Rays three-run first inning with an RBI triple that scored Crawford. Carlos Pena, who has had a rough spring, took an offering from Pirates starter Ross Ohlendorf and sent it deep over left center field.Tampa Bay struck again in the third when Zobrist took a 2-0 pitch over the left field wall. Sean Rodriguez and Alvin Colina followed with run-scoring hits. Rodriguez went 3 for 3 and raised his spring average to .453.Jeff Clement homered off of Garza in the second inning. Garrett Jones had the Pirates' only other extra-base hit -- a triple off Garza in the sixth inning."I was a little off at times," Garza said. "I pitched from behind in the count more than I wanted to. There are still some things to work on."Ohlendorf continued his spring struggles, giving up 10 hits and eight runs in four innings. His spring ERA sits at 9.82.
Garza is scheduled for a short start Friday against the New York Mets at Tropicana Field. He expects to be held to a pitch count of 45. ... Rodriguez now has 24 hits and 16 RBIs this spring. ... Rays OF Matt Joyce continues to recover from an elbow strain and remains unsure about his return to the lineup. "I hope that one day I can wake up and be ready to go," he said. "Right now I'm doing what I can but it's a slow process and I'm going to have to be patient. ... Pirates OF Andrew McCutchen went 1 for 3 with a single off Garza in the third inning.