MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs are shutting down Matt Garza and preparing for the possibility that he will miss the first month of the biggest season in his career.
Manager Dale Sveum made that projection on Sunday, saying that Garza won’t throw for at least another week as he deals with a lat muscle strain and the stiffness on his left side.
“It could be (until May), but that’s not what I’m planning,” Garza said inside the HoHoKam Stadium clubhouse. “I don’t sit back and let things happen. I try to make them happen. I’m going to keep pushing.”
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The day before, Sveum had given a good report on Garza’s throwing session. Now the Cubs are saying he had trouble picking up the intensity.
Two weeks ago, Garza cut short a live batting practice session during the team’s first full-squad workout at Fitch Park. The Cubs interpreted it as good news that an MRI revealed a “mild” strain basically where the lat and oblique muscles meet.
All sides are saying that Garza’s right arm is in good shape after a stress reaction in his elbow ended his season last July. Garza blamed this injury on not pitching for seven months and losing some muscle memory.
These question marks made starting pitching the No. 1 offseason priority.
Sveum finally announced Jeff Samardzija will be the Opening Day starter. Edwin Jackson and Scott Feldman were already in the rotation. Travis Wood and Carlos Villanueva are now essentially locks to be in the starting five, and there goes the depth team executives talked about.
Even with 40 percent of the rotation ticketed for the disabled list to start the season, industry sources confirmed that the Cubs aren’t going to respond by jumping in on free-agent pitcher Kyle Lohse.
Lohse went 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA for the St. Louis Cardinals last season, but he’s 34 years old. He also received a qualifying offer from the Cardinals, meaning he’d cost the draft-pick compensation the Cubs aren’t willing to sacrifice.
“It didn’t hurt – it’s just not gone,” Garza said. “With stuff like this, it has to be gone. That’s kind of where the hiccup was. If it’s not gone, we got to get off the pedal. I’d rather keep pushing it down, but like I’ve said before, I can’t be selfish.
“It’s still real early and, shoot, if I can help my team out for five-and-half months, that’s better than nothing.”
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Garza will aim for the second week of April, but realistically he will get only two Cactus League starts, and that’s assuming no more setbacks. The Cubs understand these can be lingering injuries.
“I don’t think it’s that bad. It’s just not ready to throw a baseball yet,” Sveum said. “It didn’t get worse. It was like an evaluation process and obviously the evaluation was he’s just not ready to step up any extra intensity throwing.”
It’s likely Garza would have been in a different uniform in another camp in Arizona or Florida if he hadn’t injured his elbow July 21 last year, right before the deadline, killing his trade value.
Garza will make $10.25 million in his walk year. He’s younger and more of a power pitcher than Lohse (and not represented by super-agent Scott Boras). But depending on how this plays out, a qualifying offer could be one option the Cubs consider.
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Whatever happens, this will be a big season for Garza personally.
“I can’t really think about that unless I get on a mound,” Garza said. “Like I said since I got back, I just want to pitch. I just want to go out there and play and everything will take care of itself. I’m still (living) by that: Everything’s going to take care of itself. I’m just going (to) compete and try to help the club win games.”