MESA, Ariz. – Seven months ago, Matt Garza immediately knew something was wrong after he threw a 96 mph fastball in St. Louis. That tied him to the Cubs for at least part of another season.
Answering questions in front of his locker on Feb. 21 at HoHoKam Stadium, Garza didn’t show the same bluster you saw July 21 last year inside the visiting clubhouse at Busch Stadium, when all the trade rumors were swirling.
That initial diagnosis – cramping in Garza’s right triceps – evolved into a stress reaction in his right elbow that ended his season and would become an X-factor in any plans for 2013.
Now in the middle of a shutdown for what the Cubs are calling a “mild” lat muscle strain, Garza is still optimistic that he won’t have to open the season on the disabled list.
“I’m not worried about the spring starts. I’m more concerned about being ready for opening week,” Garza said Thursday. “Right now, if I stay on my pace, and stay patient, let it heal, I’ll be fine. I’ll be ready.”
Manager Dale Sveum – who has been reluctant to speculate about what Garza’s injury means for the rotation plans – shared that same sense of optimism.
“He’s not 100 percent symptom-free, but he’s really close now,” Sveum said. “I think we’ve kind of lucked out on this one, that it wasn’t that big-time rib-cage (injury) or one of those things that can take forever.
“It looks like we’re on track from our first statement – five-to-seven days until he starts throwing the ball. It’s great that it’s getting that much better each day.”
Garza demonstrated for reporters by raising his left arm over his head, stretching out his side and saying he wasn’t in pain. He made similar movements once he stepped off the mound during Sunday’s live batting practice session at Fitch Park, pulling the plug after 20 pitches.
“He looked free and easy,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “When you see a guy stretching like that, you kind of think the worst, so it was a bummer, but I’m glad his arm feels good.
“When these injuries happen the last start of spring training, it really hurts you in-season. Hopefully, this is the kind of injury that happens early and he has plenty of time to recover from it.”
The Cubs spun the MRI as good news and indicated Garza would rest and receive treatment for about a week after coming into camp in excellent shape.
“I was ahead of schedule throwing, so it kind of balanced out a little bit and a little more time is always good,” Garza said. “Maybe that’s a sign. I have no choice. But maybe – maybe – that’s what it was: I came out too fast and this is kind of a way to slow down.”
The Cubs identified the strain around the point where the lat and oblique muscles meet, though it’s not on Garza’s dominant side.
“It’s just slow,” Garza said. “Those are the muscles you really have to be careful with because they’re involved with everything. So some people say I shouldn’t even be laughing, but it doesn’t hurt, so that’s a good thing.”