]ST. PETERSBURG — Matt Garza didn’t have his good stuff Friday night.
The Tampa Bay Rays right hander had his worst first inning of the season, failed to go six innings for his second straight start and took a no-decision in the Rays' 4-3 victory against the visiting Washington Nationals.
Garza allowed three runs during a 34-pitch first inning.
"I felt out of whack," he said. "I don’t know what it was."
Rays manager Joe Maddon said Garza’s struggles might have been caused by his unfamiliarity with the Nationals lineup, since it was the first time Garza was facing the National League East team.
"He was just uncomfortable. He threw an 0-2 change-up to (Cristian) Guzman, the first hitter. That was unusual," Maddon said.
Garza is winless in his past five starts, going 0-2 with three no-decisions.
He put the Rays in a 3-0 hole with an unusually poor first inning. In his first 12 starts, Garza allowed four hits and one earned run in the first inning. He allowed four hits Friday, including singles to the first two batters he faced and a two-run double to former Ray Elijah Dukes that gave the Nationals a 3-0 lead.
"He wasn’t in any kind of sync," Maddon said. "We wanted him to go as far as we could with him, and we did."
Garza lasted into the sixth inning and was lifted after allowing a two-out walk to Josh Bard, the Nationals' No. 8 hitter. He had thrown 116 pitches, but only 57 strikes.
Bullpen to the rescue
Once again, the Rays bullpen came up big.
Joe Nelson, Dan Wheeler and J.P. Howell combined to throw 3 1/3 scoreless innings. They allowed one hit and one walk.
The bullpen has now thrown 17 straight scoreless innings, including 16 during this homestand. They have recorded 13 strikeouts in the past four games.
Joe Nelson threw a 1-2-3 inning Friday to extend his streak of perfect innings to 6 2/3 over his last six outings. Before this Nolan Ryan-like stretch, Nelson had allowed 12 earned runs in 9 2/3 innings over a 12-game span.
Carl Crawford stole his major league-leading 36th base as the Rays ran all over the Nationals. B.J. Upton stole two bases and Ben Zobrist, Reid Brignac and Crawford stole one each.
Upton stole the 100th and 101st base of his career. Brignac stole the first of his career.
Upton has 20 for the season, making him the 10th active player to have at least three 20-steal seasons before his 24th birthday.
The Rays have 101 steals this season, the most in the majors. They are the fastest team to reach 100 steals since the 1991 Montreal Expos reached that number in 62 games.
The Rays have won 9 of 11 at the Trop. Since May 15, their 13-4 home record is tied with the Yankees for best in the majors ... The Rays are a game above .500 for the fifth time this season. They have yet to get to two games above .500 ... Tropicana Field and Yankee Stadium are still the only major league parks to see at least one home run every game ... Friday’s win was the Rays 15th come-from-behind win this season ... The Rays are 7-13 in one-run games. Only the Royals have a worse record (4-10) in one-run games.