CHICAGO -- In the fifth inning of Sunday's 8-0 White Sox victory over Detroit, the Tigers put runners on first and third with only one out and threatened to end Jon Garland's run of consecutive scoreless innings. According to manager Ozzie Guillen, the Jon Garland of the past three or four years not only would have allowed the one run to score but possibly two or three others along with it. It seemed to be one inning out of every start that did in the talented right-hander. But through five starts in 2005, Garland appears to have turned the corner in establishing himself as a top-of-the-rotation sort of starter. Instead of losing focus during precarious situations, Garland gets mentally tougher.
The talent has always been there for the 25-year-old, but putting that ability together with his newfound composure has led to a 5-0 start and a microscopic 1.38 earned run average for Garland. His 4-0 effort and 1.80 ERA in April also earned Garland the Pitcher of the Month honors for the American League, the first time he has won such an award and the first time a White Sox player has achieved this goal since Mark Buehrle won in May of last year. That monthly award was just the beginning, though, for Garland on Monday. He also earned the AL's Co-Player of the Week with the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez, after throwing four-hit shutouts against the A's on Monday and the Tigers on Sunday. Yes, Garland escaped that one-out, fifth-inning jam against Detroit, inducing Ramon Martinez's line drive to second and striking out Jason Smith. Garland's scoreless inning streak sits at 23, the longest by a White Sox starter since Buehrle went 24 2/3 in 2001. With each start, Garland not only is making a believer of the skeptics who saw him as nothing more than a .500 pitcher. But he's also turning the heads of more than a few opposing hitters. "We've seen him twice now, and we haven't touched him," said Detroit manager Alan Trammell of Garland, who has thrown 14 straight scoreless innings this season against the Tigers. "In the past, we've had fairly good success against him. But he seems like a different pitcher this year." "He didn't make any mistakes," Detroit third baseman Brandon Inge added of Garland, who carried a 46-51 record and 4.68 ERA into this season. "Everything was on the corner, and even if it had the plate, it was sinking down and you couldn't do much with it. He did a great job mixing it up with fastballs, sliders and changeups. When you put the ball where he did, you can't do much with it, kind of like a Greg Maddux approach." The keys to Garland's turnaround have been talked about with great specificity this year. He's more aggressive within the strike zone. He's getting ahead of the hitters. He's trusting catchers A.J. Pierzynski and Chris Widger to call the game. Garland also has kept his pitches down, mixing in a dazzling changeup with one of the best sinkers in baseball. In 33 starts during the 2004 campaign, Garland allowed 223 hits and 76 walks. He also gave up a career-high 34 home runs. Through 39 innings during the 2005 campaign, opposing hitters have touched Garland for a mere 25 hits and only drawn six walks. And in five starts, Garland has yielded one home run. "I think some of that has to do with colder weather," said Garland of reducing his propensity to allow home runs. "We will find out when the weather heats up. But for the most part, I'm keeping my pitches down. "If I keep locating, the success hopefully will continue on. I might be a little surprised at the zeroes I keep putting up because of how much they put the ball in play against me. I'm not that power guy. But there's been some great defense behind me." The trust from Guillen also has pushed Garland to a higher level. Even last year, when Garland struggled at times, Guillen still left him to work out of trouble long enough where he pitched a single-season-high 217 innings. It's a confidence level that puts Garland at ease, not to mention, presenting him with greater leverage to work out of jams such as Sunday's fifth-inning situation. Guillen has been Garland's biggest supporter, as evidenced by the manager's pointed response Sunday when asked if he thought Garland would ever be this dominant. "Yep," said Guillen directly. "I told you guys last year. I never doubted him. It was a matter of time. Last year we gave him the opportunity to be a real pitcher. "We took the chance with him and I took a lot of heat from the people about, 'How long are you going to stay with Garland,' and, 'How long are you going to keep him there.' We did, and thank God we did. We gave him a chance to get better and he took advantage." Garland laughed when asked if he felt vindication over his numerous critics, pointing out that the nature of the business dictates the reaction to his success and his past failures. He also didn't seem overly moved by any awards coming his way. His biggest goal is to help the White Sox win. As the only five-victory pitcher in the American League, for a first-place team, Garland has reached his early target. "There's more confidence in me, as far as from my manager, my teammates and even the other team," Garland said. "They see the way I'm throwing, so in the back of their minds they know that they will scuffle to get a couple of runs. "But I'm still learning every time I go out there," Garland added.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.