Braves down Brewers after Matt Garza, Aaron Harang flirt with no-hitters
On Wednesday afternoon, in their first respective starts for their new teams, the Brewers' Matt Garza and the Braves' Aaron Harang took dueling no-hitters into the seventh inning. Moments after he served up a sharp lineout to Freddie Freeman, Garza was the first to blink, yielding a solo homer to Chris Johnson with two outs in the top of the seventh. Harang's bid ended moments later, when Logan Schafer led off the bottom of the frame with a single to centerfield. In the end, it was Harang who took home the win, as the Braves blanked the Brewers, 1-0.
In his first start since signing a four-year, $50 million deal with the Brewers in February, Garza made a run at his second career no-hitter; his first came on July 6, 2010 when he blanked the Tigers for the first no-hitter in Rays franchise history. Relying primarily on a four-seam fastball that averaged 94.7 mph and topped out at 96.7 (both figures according to BrooksBaseball.net), he needed just 72 pitches to get through his first six frames, netting 13 swings and misses, striking out seven and going to a three-ball count only against Freddie Freeman in the fourth inning. He wound up walking Freeman, the first blemish on his line, and he appeared to dodge a bullet when the Braves' first baseman smoked a line drive to Ryan Braun in rightfield in the seventh. After falling behind Johnson with a first-pitch ball, he left a 94 mph four-seam fastball out over the plate, and Johnson didn't miss it:
Unfortunately for Garza, Johnson's homer proved decisive, but if the 30-year-old righty is anywhere near as good as he was on Wednesday afternoon, the Brewers will be quite pleased. Garza wound up lasting eight innings and yielding just two hits over the course of his 90 pitches, of which 60 were four-seamers; he threw just 16 sliders and three curves, with the balance two-seam fastballs. He was efficient, only going past 14 pitches in an inning in the fourth, when he needed 16. For all of the concerns about the shoulder and elbow problems that limited him to just 42 starts in 2012-2013, he has pitched eight innings five times over his past 20 starts, keeping his pitch counts below 100 in three of those five turns.
Harang, who didn't sign with Atlanta until March 24, has bought himself some time in the injury-wracked Braves rotation. Rocked for a 5.40 ERA with the Mariners and Mets last year, he signed with the Indians via a minor league with just $1 million in salary if he made the majors, but he was released in mid-March, then caught on with the Braves when they dropped Freddy Garcia. Relying primarily on a combination of two- and four-seam fastballs that averaged just a hair under 92 mph, he needed 85 pitches to get through the first six innings, of which seven were swings and misses. He struck out three and went to a three-ball count only twice through the first five frames, in the third inning against Lyle Overbay (whom he walked) and in the fourth against Aramis Ramirez (whom he induced to ground out). Harang went to three balls against back-to-back hitters to end the sixth inning; Garza grounded out to cap an eight-pitch at bat, while Carlos Gomez struck out swinging at the seventh pitch of his. Those two long battles might have been enough to tire him out; after yielding a single to Schafer, he served up another one to Ramirez, and was pulled in favor of reliever Luis Avilan, ending his day at 97 pitches. Avilan, David Carpenter and Craig Kimbrel retired the final seven hitters, with the latter benefiting from a sliding catch by Jason Heyward on Gomez's fly ball to lead off the ninth.