Having lost four games in a row for just the second time this season, the Milwaukee Brewers needed somebody to step up and break the skid.
Matt Garza was that stopper Saturday, tossing a two-hit shutout to lead the Brewers to a 1-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ballpark. It was a much-needed effort, too, as Reds starter Homer Bailey nearly matched Garza pitch for pitch.
"I just tried to come out and give my team the best shot to win," Garza said. "That’s just compete every at-bat and compete every pitch. That’s a good lineup. You can’t take anybody lightly, especially the way they have the top working.
"It was just one of those days. I’ve had tough luck with soft hits here and there. Today they landed in our gloves."
The shutout was the fourth of Garza’s career and his first since he tossed a no-hitter with the Tampa Bay Rays in July of 2010. Making his effort even more impressive, Garza became just the seventh opposing pitcher to throw a shutout at Great American Ballpark since the park opened in 2003.
Garza needed just 36 pitches to retire the Reds in order in each of the first four innings Saturday, showing great life on his fastball from the start. Brandon Phillips was the first to reach against Garza with a leadoff single in the fifth, but Jay Bruce lined into a double play to erase the baserunner.
A one-out double by Zack Cozart in the sixth gave the Reds their first scoring threat of the afternoon. Clinging to a 1-0 lead, Garza responded by striking out Bailey and Billy Hamilton to get out of the inning. Garza walked a batter in the seventh and the eighth but was able to work around the free passes.
"He was right today," Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. "He has it in him. That’s what he’s capable of doing. If he can continue doing that right there, we’re going to be in pretty good shape, I think. That’s pretty impressive."
Milwaukee’s lone run against Bailey came in the first inning, as Lucroy doubled with two outs and later came in to score on an RBI single from Aramis Ramirez. The Brewers had chances to extend their lead only to have runners thrown out at the plate to end back-to-back innings.
In the sixth, Khris Davis doubled to right with Ramirez on first base. The Reds executed a perfect relay from Jay Bruce to Zack Cozart to Devin Mesoraco to just get the veteran third baseman before he slid into home.
Scooter Gennett doubled with two outs in the seventh, as third-base coach Ed Sedar tried to send Mark Reynolds around to score from first base. Again starting with Bruce, Cincinnati was quick with the relay to just nab Reynolds at the plate.
"You need to do it," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "It’s going to be tough to score runs. It’s going to be tough to put together a lot of hits in a row off Bailey. When you get the opportunity, you make them have to make a good play, and they did.
"The first throw was Cozart right on the money. Then when Phillips gets the ball in his hands you aren’t real comfortable, either. Two close plays, it is not like they are blowing us up easy. They were close."
After Reds reliever Jumbo Diaz retired the Brewers in order in the top of the ninth — leaving Garza in the on-deck circle — Roenicke opted to send the right-hander back out to try and complete the shutout.
"It’s tough. I never like that," Roenicke said of the decision to send Garza back out. "When a guy has a shutout going, it is really his ballgame to win or lose unless that guy is gassed. Sometimes you get to the ninth and they grind it out so hard that they are really spent. He said he was OK and he looked it in the ninth."
Garza induced a pair flyouts from Hamilton and Todd Frazier to start the ninth before striking out Joey Votto to end the game.
"We needed a break and we needed to win, and we came through today," Garza said. "Bailey threw the ball well, too. Shoot, he had that one hiccup in the first and then it was just a straight streetfight between the two teams today. It was a good game."
Needing 111 pitches to finish off the Reds, Garza walked just two batters and tied a season-high with nine strikeouts in his finest effort to date as a member of the Brewers. A performance to stop a losing streak like the one he put forth Saturday was what Milwaukee had in mind when it signed Garza to a four-year, $50 million contract this offseason.
"Obviously, after losing four in a row we needed a start like that," Lucroy said. "We don’t want to create a losing streak, but he was able to come in and stop it. I wish we could put some more runs up, but their guy was pretty good, too. You have to give credit to him."
Braun exits early: Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun left Saturday’s game prior to the bottom of the second inning with lower-back spasms and is considered day-to-day.
Braun struck out in his lone at-bat of the day and wasn’t going to hit in the second inning if his turn in the lineup came up. Logan Schafer replaced Braun in right field and went 0-for-3 with a strikeout.
"Felt it today in BP," Roenicke said. "Thought he was going to be able to get through the game, and obviously couldn’t do it."