'Me versus him': Garrett's gutsy performance shows he belongs

April 20th, 2022

KANSAS CITY -- Amir Garrett had already thrown 24 pitches by the time Twins catcher Ryan Jeffers came to the plate with two outs in the top of the sixth inning Tuesday night. But after he struck out Gary Sánchez a batter earlier, the Royals felt good about Garrett getting out of the frame with ease.

When Jeffers fouled the second pitch down the left-field line toward Andrew Benintendi, it looked like the at-bat would be over. But Benintendi dropped the foul ball, and Jeffers headed back to the plate.

That’s when the battle really began.

“Me versus him,” Garrett said. “It was a great at-bat by him. But I had to come out on top. I was out there for so long, I had to say he’s not going to beat me. I gave him everything I had.”

Garrett threw 13 pitches to Jeffers, mostly a steady stream of sliders, before the catcher grounded out to third base to end the scoreless frame. The at-bat lasted more than six minutes as Garrett labored through and competed with Jeffers when the pitch count had already blown past its limit. The lefty reliever finished with 37 pitches thrown across 1 2/3 innings.

“Obviously, he knew every pitch I was throwing,” Garrett said. “But I’m confident in myself and my slider that I was going to be able to get him out no matter if he knew the pitch was coming or not.”

Jeffers did hit a slider, finally in fair territory, to third baseman Bobby Witt Jr., who handled it easily. It was Garrett’s third appearance for Kansas City this season, and first in a week. He has yet to allow a run, and Tuesday was his first win as a Royal.

“That wasn’t what we were looking for, to go that long,” manager Mike Matheny said. “But what he gets into it, it’s, ‘All right, man, this is your fight.’ Not a better guy in that room to hand that job over to. You got to tough yourself through it. That’s what it ended up being. You could tell he was mad, couple good pitches fouled off. It was a really good at-bat. A lot of respect for how Amir competes. I don’t think anybody doubted that coming in. But watching it firsthand -- he’s tired right there. There’s no doubt. But he wills himself to get it done.”

Garrett hasn’t gotten many opportunities yet in Kansas City's nine games entering Wednesday, but what he’s shown so far has been what the Royals hoped when they traded for him in Spring Training: A high-powered lefty reliever who can get out of jams, whether it’s in the middle innings or back end of games if Jake Brentz, Scott Barlow and/or Josh Staumont aren’t available on a given night.

“His role is mostly going to be figuring out how to get us out of big binds against left-handed hitters,” Matheny said. “Could be earlier in the game -- who’s our best matchup right now? Is this the game? It could be in the fifth inning right behind the starter. This is what we believe is the turning point of the game. I think he’s going to be one of those options for us.”

Garrett came into Tuesday’s game in the fifth inning, when starter Carlos Hernández allowed a RBI single to Carlos Correa with two lefties, Max Kepler and Nick Gordon, coming up in the lineup. Garrett got the second out of the frame with fielder’s choice and then struck out pinch-hitter Kyle Garlick with his signature slider. That’s a pitch that was extremely effective for him with the Reds in 2019 as one of the best setup men in the National League.

Garrett struggled the past two years in Cincinnati, but early results indicate he’s finding his form again -- no matter what inning he throws, or how many pitches he might need to get the job done.

“I haven’t had this feeling in almost two years,” Garrett said. “The times I’ve come into pitch, I’ve had butterflies in my stomach. That was a feeling I had lost the last two years. When I was at my best, I had that feeling every single time I went out there to pitch. I’m loving the game, I’m loving going out there and having fun, loving competing. I just want to stay right there.”