MESA, Ariz. – Matt Garza isn’t in the business of making predictions anymore. The Cubs pitcher seems braced for the possibility of opening the season on the disabled list.
Garza played catch for around 15 minutes from about 45-to-60 feet out on Thursday at HoHoKam Stadium. But he didn’t want to look too far beyond those “baby steps,” stressing that he’s not going to force his way back onto the mound.
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The Cubs were already on alert monitoring Garza’s right elbow when he strained a lat muscle on his left side during the team’s first full-squad workout on Feb. 17.
“If I try to rush and be ready April 1, I might be re-injured in June, and be out,” Garza said. “If I take my time, maybe I'm pitching April 15 through October, maybe November.”
If everything goes right, Garza said, “then we take another step tomorrow. And after that, we take another step. But right now, it’s a day-by-day, step-by-step process. You can’t overlook the next step, because if I catch a snag, then I’m back to square one.”
While Garza – who typically doesn’t sound so cautious – wasn’t making any book-it promises, manager Dale Sveum seemed a little more optimistic and wouldn’t rule him out for early April.
“That’s way too early to evaluate,” Sveum said. “We’ve got to evaluate today before we evaluate (that) or even think that far down the road. If everything goes good today, we’re planning on him being ready for the start of the season.”
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The good news is that Garza’s arm has seemingly bounced back after last season’s shutdown. He hasn’t pitched in a game in more than seven months because of a stress reaction in his right elbow. He threw six bullpen sessions before cutting short his first live batting practice session.
“There's no concern there – it's just caution,” Garza said. “I'm just going to take my time and be easy with it and make sure it’s nice and free flowing. If there’s any snag, then speak up. This is a time where a guy like me – I love being out there. I’ve got to swallow my pride and put the team first.”
The Cubs have already pushed back Scott Baker as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. They’re targeting mid-April for his rotation debut.
The Cubs breathed a sigh of relief when they found out Starlin Castro will sit out for only two or three days with left hamstring tightness. The All-Star shortstop wasn’t expected to get an MRI. He hit in the cage on Thursday and participated in the camp bunting tournament.
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Josh Vitters is ahead of Ian Stewart as they recover from quadriceps strains. Stewart was cleared for the bunting tournament, but Sveum doesn’t expect the third baseman to swing a bat for at least another week, which won’t make it any easier to win a job on a non-guaranteed deal.
But everything revolves around Garza. If the Cubs are going to get off to a hot start and avoid another fire sale in July, they’re going to need Garza, their biggest trade chip, a big-game pitcher making $10.25 million in his walk year.
“It was nerve-wracking, but (once I was) done, it was like a sigh of relief,” Garza said. “Now I got to take my foot off the gas pedal because I’m the type of person where I get excited and I want to keep pushing, keep pushing and go. (With) this type of stuff, (you) got to ease off on it.”