Some call it the ‘yips’. Golfers call it the ‘shanks’. Baseball players refer to it simply as ‘The Thing’.
Whatever you call it, Matt Garza is suffering from it—his inability to make the simplest of fielding throws.
Another pitcher, Rick Ankiel, famously suffered from the yips with the Cardinals. He eventually coped by converting to an outfielder.
Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch was so riddled by the shanks he too switched to the outfield, and eventually had to become a DH.
Roy McAvoy…that’s another story.
Garza’s case, thankfully, hasn’t reached such extremes. But his two throwing mishaps during Wednesday’s game left me wondering…how much worse will Garza get?
No question Garza’s mental block developed when he threw the ball well wide of first base on Thursday, April 12 against the Brewers.
More specifically, the play was a comebacker from pinch hitter Norichika Aoki that Garza whipped 20-some rows into the Wrigley Field stands behind Bryan LaHair. Not. Even. Close.
The most troubling part of Garza’s error was that it cost him a complete game shutout–literally. Aoki, batting with two down in the ninth, should have been the final batter.
Instead, it turns out Aoki was Garza’s final batter with Dale Sveum electing to go with Shawn Camp to finish off the Cubs 8-0 win. Garza, it seems, has been haunted by the event ever since.
Milwaukee smartly exploited Garza’s fielding weakness with bunt attempts during last Friday’s 8-7 loss in 13-innings. It worked, and thus the word spread through all of baseball on Garza’s condition.
The Phillies didn’t take long to press the issue last night. Juan Pierre, the second batter of the game, challenged Garza with a bunt. Matt’s throw dribbled well short of LaHair. E-1.
In the third inning Pierre bunting again and Garza’s toss barley reached first base. Official scoring ruled it a base hit. Common sense rules it another error.
Regardless, the mental block has only grown worse for the Cubs right-hander.
The Astros will unquestionable force Garza to field the ball in his next start at Houston Monday night. That’s four days for Garza to right the wrongs of his fielding woes.
Maybe it means extra PFP, a visit with the team’s shrink or perhaps, Garza skipping his habitual pre-game meal of Popeye’s Chicken?
Seriously though, I feel bad for Matt. He’s been an exceptional pitcher with the Cubs, a solid complement to Ryan Dempster, and it only gets tougher watching the guy suffer through the embarrassment of the yips.
It can’t be easy on Garza, not with thousands of moaning, groaning or chuckling fans raining down on him with each errant throw.
Grarza’s too good a pitcher not to be right mentally, and too much a competitor not to overcome ‘The Thing’.
Good thing, too, because Matt Garza isn’t converting to an outfielder or retiring any time soon.