One thing that makes Twins righthander Matt Garza such a prized prospect is that he can throw a 94-to-96 miles-per-hour fastball when he needs it.
Garza reached back for that heater on Monday night at the Metrodome, but saw it cross the plate in the wrong places against Seattle hitters, who looked ready to tag it.
And they did, time and time again.
The result: Garza gave up four home runs in 2 1/3 innings and absorbed his worst outing since his major league debut a year ago as the Mariners bashed the Twins 9-4.
The Twins entered Monday having won four of their past five games, but they missed a chance to gain ground on idle Cleveland and Detroit in the AL Central race.
"We had a good plan. He just couldn't get the ball where he needed to get it," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Garza. "It was out and over the plate. These guys are big and strong, and if you make a mistake over the plate, they are going to hit it."
Seattle has won four consecutive and six of its past seven on the road. Lefthander Horacio Ramirez, who had a 13.50 ERA on the road and who lost to the Twins last week in Seattle, went 7 1/3 innings to improve to 8-4.
Garza (2-4) helped beat the Mariners 11-3 last week at Safeco Field. He has the talent to be a top of the rotation starter, someone who could be a nice running mate on ace Johan Santana's ticket.
Garza's struggles on Monday won't change that outlook, but it provided some lessons.
He opened the game by spinning a curveball for a strike against Ichiro Suzuki and eventually struck out the Mariners star. Things soon unraveled.
Jose Guillen rolled a one-out single to center, then Raul Ibanez crushed a high 1-0 fastball over the left field wall for an opposite-field, two-run homer that opened the scoring.
Adrian Beltre singled to right. Pitching coach Rick Anderson went to the mound to settle down Garza, but it didn't work. Garza made a huge mistake to Richie Sexson, throwing a fastball on the outer half of the plate. The 6-8 Sexson promptly extended his arms and blasted a two-run homer to center that put the Mariners ahead 4-0.
Ibanez's solo homer and a two-run shot to left by Kenji Johjima in the third gave the AL wild-card leaders a 7-1 lead.
That's four homers. Three two-run shots. Three on 1-0 counts. Over 2 1/3 innings, Garza gave up seven earned runs on nine hits. His ERA rose from 2.05 to 3.30. In addition to not getting the ball down, Garza couldn't get his fastball to move like it normally does. And he could have helped himself by making a couple of hitters uncomfortable in the batter's box.
"They just came out swinging, and I really had nothing for 'em," said Garza, who is 0-8 in 10 career games in the Metrodome. "The fastball was up tonight, and they were looking for it. They were just waiting for that fastball. I would throw in that offspeed early and get ahead, [but] they just sat on that fastball. They weren't looking for anything other than the fastball."
The results were eerily similar to Garza's major league debut on Aug. 11, 2006, against Toronto. Garza gave up seven earned runs on eight hits, including two homers, over 2 2/3 innings in that outing. Garza was predictable with his fastball that night. On Monday, the placement of his fastball led to predictable results.
"They swallowed him up before he got going," Gardenhire said.