In Garza, Brewers pitchers have World Series-caliber mentor

Samantha Pell/Cronkite News

In Garza, Brewers pitchers have World Series-caliber mentor

Spring Training

In Garza, Brewers pitchers have World Series-caliber mentor

by Samantha Pell

Cronkite News

PHOENIX — The only World Series game Matt Garza appeared in ended at 1:47 a.m.

Is he ever up at that early hour reminiscing and wondering if he can make it back?

“You know, when my career is all over I will look back and enjoy those moments somewhere,” Garza said at the Brewers camp at Maryvale Baseball Park. “Right now you can’t really look in the past. You have to keep moving forward. It’s just, keep racking in those memories so when it’s all said and done I can look back and have a couple stories to tell.”

In 2008, Garza started Game 3 of the World Series for visiting Tampa Bay against the Philadelphia Phillies. The game started at 10:06 p.m. after a rain delay, and Garza recorded a six-inning no-decision in the Rays’ 5-4 loss. The Phillies won the Series in five games, and so Garza didn’t get to start again.

Garza doesn’t take that lone appearance for granted.

“Any time you can play for the top of your job, at the top level for the top prize, it’s always exciting,” Garza said. “So much energy. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Entering his 12th season in major-league baseball, the 33-year-old Brewers right-hander said a return to the World Series is a “huge goal.”

As he enters the final year of his four-year, $50 million contract, Garza has become a mentor to a young pitching staff.

“He has experienced a lot, and that helps people,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “I think Matt has got to the place in his career where what’s really important is that he enjoys it. He enjoys the kind of tutelage and the mentoring and the fun that goes along with being a veteran player.”

(Video by Megan Plain/Cronkite News)

Garza was 24 when he made his lone World Series appearance. He now mentors teammates who are that age.

“It’s a different role,” Garza said. “A different perspective. When I came up I was in their position. I was a young guy on a really young team and just having the feeling . . .  just puts into perspective what I had and what I could take advantage of.

“That’s why we are here. We learn through our mistakes to try to help these guys get better and not make the same ones.”

Don’t expect his teammates to remember his World Series game, though. It might have been past their bedtimes.

“I honestly don’t remember it,” said Brewers pitcher Taylor Jungmann, who was 18 at the time. “I know he was there, though.”

Jungmann, now 27, said Garza’s experience can help the Brewers.

“When a guy has been around 8 to 10 years in the big leagues and stuck for that long, it’s huge for your clubhouse and for the younger guys,” Jungmann said. “If you don’t have that, then who are you going to learn from?”

For the past couple years, Garza has been helping Brewers pitcher Tyler Cravy, both mechanically and mentally on the mound. Garza gives him pointers on whether to slow down on a certain pitch and insight on why Cravy would be flying open on another.

“After I struggled after a few innings he would talk to me and give me advice and what he thought would help and what he thought I should work on in the next bullpen,” said Cravy, 27. “So just having that veteran guy who has been there before, if he sees anything he will let you know and he is very honest and straight up about it.”

Right-hander Zach Davies is entering his second full season in the Brewers rotation. Garza has helped him learn the job.

“As a starter personally, you get a sense of what a five-day schedule would be like and kind of bounce ideas off him of what he has done in the past and what I can experiment with myself,” said Davies, 24. “We all kind of bounce ideas off each other for techniques and mechanics-wise.

“It’s easy to kind of relax and talk to him. He’s a big veteran guy in the clubhouse, and it’s a big influence.”

Jungmann and Davies said there isn’t one standout piece of advice Garza has relayed to them, but during games he usually dishes out his fair share.

“In a game the starters usually sit in the dugout together and you will watch the game and see different counts and see what you would throw on that count if you were pitching or something like that — like what not to do in certain situations,” Jungmann said. “Say a guy gives up a home run . . . he says what would have been a better pitch to throw there.”

Garza’s influence has ranged from pitches, to strength training, to how he carries himself on the field.

“You just watch how he works,” Jungmann said. “You watch in the weight room, how he works on the mound, how he carries himself on the mound. I think that the biggest thing for young guys is learning how to carry themselves on the mound.”

With the Brewers, Garza has a 20-30 record. But his real record might be in the pitchers he is mentoring.

If the Brewers make it back to the World Series this year, it will be both Garza and Milwaukee’s second such appearance. He wonders if his current team can remind him of the 2008 pennant-winning team in Tampa Bay.

“Just like that 2008 team,” he said, “there is a lot of young guys, a couple savvy vets and a little bit of magic. Maybe we can rekindle that here.”

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