FORT MYERS — Matt Garza wasn’t even supposed to be here.
But there he was Wednesday afternoon — less than a year removed from being named the WAC pitcher of the year at Fresno State, and about six months from his debut in rookie ball — the Twins’ top draft pick last June, pitching two scoreless innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Not that there weren’t nerves involved. The 6-foot-4 right-hander tossed and turned in bed the night before his first spring training start, then was so amped he hit the field an hour early.
“It’s one thing I’m learning,” Garza said. “You don’t have to be uptight, you don’t have to be stressed out, just go out there and have fun and play the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”
Garza, 22, is one pitcher that has benefited from the World Baseball Classic and the tournament’s gluttonous appetite for Twins pitchers. Minnesota lost two parts of its starting rotation (Johan Santana and Carlos Silva), its top pitching prospect (Francisco Liriano) and three parts of its bullpen in Joe Nathan, Jesse Crain and Dennys Reyes.
When Garza showed up early, in shape and ready to throw, he was moved into the big-league camp.
“We decided we needed more pitchers and he was ready,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He stepped into a good situation, and he’s thrown the ball very well. ... He’s got a nice looking arm. He’s going to be a nice looking pitcher for us some day.”
Garza didn’t figure in the decision in the Twins’ 5-3 win over the Pirates at Hammond Stadium. He gave up four hits and walked two, but managed to keep Pittsburgh from scoring in the first by getting Freddy Sanchez to line softly into a double play with two on, then getting Jeromy Burnitz to foul out with runners on first and second.
With two on and two out in the second, he caught Nate McLouth looking to end the threat.
“I’m happy I was anxious instead of being scared,” Garza said.
Garza went 4-4 with a 3.57 ERA and 89 strikeouts in 75Ò innings last season in stints at rookie-level Elizabethton and low Single-A Beloit.
Though he’s headed back to the minors — and the Fort Myers Miracle would be the next logical step in his ascent through the organization — when the Twins break camp, Garza has gotten plenty of face time with the big-league coaches.
“You like to put faces with names,” Gardenhire said.
“Having them in camp and being able to put a face in the name, you can picture the person, too,” the manager added. “I’ve seen his arm, I’ve seen the way he throws, the mechanics, and that’s all good.”
Just like his first spring training.
“It’s been golden,” Garza said. “That’s the only way to explain it. It’s the chance of a lifetime.”
PERFECT HARM-ONY: One of the all-time great Twins spent much of Wednesday morning hanging around the batting cage.
Gardenhire invited Hall of Fame third baseman Harmon Killebrew to camp, where he joined Rod Carew, Tony Oliva, Paul Molitor and Tom Kelly as both instructors and reminders of the franchise’s past.
“I believe in the history of the Minnesota Twins and of the game,” Gardenhire said. “I don’t want our young players to forget where this game has been. I want them to have a little knowledge of Major League Baseball and how good it’s been for a long, long time.”
So what kind of impact can the 11-time all-star have with this team?
“In a week? Probably not a whole lot,” Killebrew said with a laugh. “I’m just happy to be here. Whatever I can do to contribute, I will do.”
COMING UP: The Twins break into a split squad this afternoon, sending Brad Radke across town to face the Red Sox at City of Palms Park. Darrell May, a lefty trying to win a spot in the bullpen, will take the hill against Cleveland in Winter Haven.
Right-handed prospect Scott Baker will start Friday’s game against the Tigers in Lakeland. Kyle Lohse is scheduled to start Saturday, when the Twins return to Hammond Stadium to play the Devil Rays at 1:05 p.m.
TWIN BILLS: Designated hitter Rondell White hit his team-leading third home run Wednesday leading off the fifth inning. ... Shannon Stewart blasted his first, a mammoth shot to left, in the third. ... Terry Tiffee, who is batting .414 this spring, leads the team with 7 RBIs. ... The Twins reached double digits in hits for the sixth straight game.