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Garza feels fine after rehab start

Garza feels fine after rehab start

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Rays starting pitcher Matt Garza's return to the Florida State League looked nothing like his first time around, but he felt fine Sunday afternoon following his first Minor League rehab start.

The right-hander, who overpowered FSL hitters in 2006, pitched into the fourth inning at Holman Stadium in the Class A Vero Beach Devil Rays' 12-4 win over the Brevard County Manatees.

It was his first start after landing on the disabled list on April 9 due to radial nerve irritation in his throwing arm. He was injured while pitching in Tampa Bay's home-opening loss to Seattle the previous night.

"I felt good. I got some good work in," said Garza. "The best part is I'm pain-free."

Garza gave up eight hits and four earned runs in 3 2/3 innings. He fanned four and walked three while throwing 39 of his 70 pitches for strikes.

On a warm afternoon, the 24-year-old California native pitched effortlessly against the Manatees over the first two frames. Garza struck out leadoff hitter Darren Ford on a nasty slider to open the game, then he received defensive help from Vero Beach third baseman Cesar Suarez, who closed the inning by fielding a bouncer on a short hop and starting a 5-4-3 double play.

Garza gave up a single to start the second, but he struck out Charlie Fermaint looking on another slider. Garza ended the inning by inducing another double-play grounder.

"I think the bad thing was when I had only thrown 20 pitches after the second inning, they told me if I didn't get to 60 [pitches] after four [innings], I'd have to finish up in the [bullpen]," the right-hander said. "That kind of deflated the adrenaline. In the second inning, I started working on breaking stuff and offspeed pitches and locating other things."

He ran into trouble in the third after getting two outs and walking a batter. Vero Beach center fielder John Matulia misplayed a line drive that ended up as a triple, and Garza then allowed run-scoring hits to the next two batters.

He left in the fourth after yielding two hits and a pair of walks.

"I shouldn't have walked as many guys as I did," Garza admitted, "but that's why I came down here to do this, instead of at the big league level."

Garza's slider was his most impressive weapon, accounting for all four of his strikeouts. His fastball clocked in around 94-96 mph, and he tossed a handful of slow curves, most of them out of the strike zone high.

Of his injury, Garza said he initially thought he had a "dead arm," but further tests revealed it was a nerve issue. Rest and medication were recommended by the Rays staff.

Garza is eligible to come off the DL on Wednesday, and he may be ready to join the Rays when they host the Red Sox in a three-game series that starts Friday.

While playing for Class A Ft. Myers two years ago in the Twins system, Garza went 5-1 with a 1.42 ERA in eight starts before quickly being promoted to Double-A New Britain. The Rays acquired him in November in a six-player swap that sent outfielder Delmon Young to the Twins.

Dioner Navarro, who is ready to be activated from the DL, caught Garza's start on Sunday, and the catcher continued to show progress, especially at the plate.

Navarro slapped a single to right field in the first inning, then he hit an 0-1 pitch from Brevard lefty Rafael Lluberes over the fence in left field for a home run that give Vero Beach a 6-0 lead. Navarro added a single in the third inning, and he finished 3-for-5 with three RBIs.

Bill Whitehead is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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