Chicago Cubs

Cubs have concerns, but not about Garza

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Cubs have concerns, but not about Garza

Sunday, March 20, 2011Posted 4:55 PM Updated 6:50 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. The numbers can tell you whatever you want in spring training. If Matt Garza was blowing away hitters, wed all be convinced that he was about to conquer the National League.

But since Garzas ERA is now 9.88 and even though he hasnt exceeded four innings in any of his five appearances the Cubs are writing it off as a veteran pitcher getting his work in.

Its been command the stuff is excellent (and) the velocity is good, manager Mike Quade said Sunday. When he does go to his soft game, its been good, and I think thats going to peak at the right time.

Garza has a clean medical history hes been on the disabled list just once in his career and has repeatedly said that hes healthy. He left Saturdays game with a tight left hamstring, a decision Quade described as over-the-top cautious, and reached his pitch count with a bullpen session.

Garza also complained about the mound at Peoria Sports Complex, where he had pitched well five days earlier. It has been a weird spring for Garza, who was rocked in his debut and left his second start as a precaution after a line drive drilled his lower back.

Zooming out from Garza, the Cubs began Sunday with a 6.32 overall team ERA that ranked last in the majors. Quade said thats not a concern not here, not right now.

The manager doesnt pay much attention to individual stats and prefers to focus on the snapshots he takes from his chair behind home plate.

Ryan Dempster has looked like an Opening Day starter. Carlos Zambrano has conducted himself like a professional. Kerry Wood has dominated hitters with his breaking stuff.

Im just looking at how I feel about them health-wise, Quade said. Would I like to see improvement here and there? And do we need to come out with better command by Opening Day? Yeah, but I think pitching-wise Im looking at a group of guys Im happy with.

Garza has walked 10 batters in 13.2 innings, a sample size that is nothing when weighed against the 94 starts he made during a three-year window in Tampa Bay.

Garza has earned the right to experiment with his pitches. He enjoys the luxury of being able to work on something specific like establishing his fastball without worrying about results.

At times, the 27-year-old seems to get a bit hyper first baseman Carlos Pena came over to the mound to calm him down during a recent Cactus League start. One reason Quade slotted Garza behind Dempster and Zambrano in the rotation was so that he could take two extra days to adjust to his new surroundings.

More than once, Garza has said that he will be ready when the bell rings. On April 3, the story will write itself. Check back then to hear the spin out of the interview room.

The Cubs are expecting great things from Garza. They cant wait to say: We told you so.

When were all sitting around here doing this after the third game at Wrigley, Quade said, well see if I was right or wrong.
Etc.
John Grabow threw a scoreless inning his second in the past four days during Sundays 3-2 win over the Giants. Afterward the left-handed reliever reported no issues with his knee or shoulder. Angel Guzman has made remarkable progress in his recovery from shoulder surgery. He left major-league camp on Sunday but is scheduled to throw another batting practice session this week and pitch in a minor-league game next week. Hes certain hes coming back, Quade said. Its just great to see. I hope he beats the odds. Aramis Ramirez was sent home Sunday morning with a high fever. Theres a chance he could play Monday in Tempe against the Angels. Quade has agreed to let the White Sox use the designated hitter on Thursday in Mesa. Well let our pitchers hit and they can DH, Quade said, but with that we ought to get a run or two, right?

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Joe Maddon finally sees Cubs playing with the right 'mental energy'

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USA TODAY

Joe Maddon finally sees Cubs playing with the right 'mental energy'

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Joe Maddon looked back on the perfect baseball storm that hit the Tampa Bay Rays and played all the greatest hits for local reporters, waxing poetic about the banners hanging inside Tropicana Field, stumping for a new stadium on the other side of the Gandy Bridge, telling Don Zimmer stories, namedropping Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston and riffing on sabermetrics and information buckets.

But the moment of clarity came in the middle of a media session that lasted 20-plus minutes, Maddon sitting up on stage in what felt like the locker room at an old CYO gym: “We only got really good because the players got really good.”

There’s no doubt the Cubs have the talent to go along with all the other big-market advantages the Rays could only dream about as the have-nots in the American League East. Now it looks like the defending champs have finally got rid of the World Series hangover, playing with the urgency and pitch-to-pitch focus that had been lacking at times and will be needed again in October.    

Maddon essentially admitted it after Tuesday’s 2-1 victory, watching his team beat Chris Archer and work together on a one-hitter that extended the winning streak to seven games and kept the Milwaukee Brewers 3.5 games back in the National League Central.

“You’re really seeing them try to execute in moments,” Maddon said. “When they come back and they don’t get it done, it’s not like they’re angry. But you can just see they’re disappointed in themselves.

“Their mental energy is probably at an all-season-high right now.”

Six days after the Cubs moved him to the bullpen, lefty swingman Mike Montgomery took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, when Tampa Bay’s No. 9 hitter (Brad Miller) drove a ball over the center-field wall. Maddon then went to the relievers he will trust in October – Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Wade Davis – with the All-Star closer striking out the side in the ninth inning and remaining perfect in save opportunities (32-for-32) as a Cub.       

“We want to go out there and prove every day that we’re the best team in baseball,” said Kyle Schwarber, the designated hitter who launched Archer’s 96-mph fastball into the right-center field seats for his 28th home run in the second inning. “The way our guys are just going out there and competing, it’s really good to see, especially this time of year. It’s getting to crunch time, and we just got to keep this same pace that we’re going at.

“Don’t worry about things around us. Just keep our heads down, keep worrying about the game and go from there.”     

In what’s been a season-long victory lap, Maddon couldn’t help looking back when the sound system started playing The Beach Boys and “Good Vibrations” echoed throughout the domed stadium, a tribute running on the video board and a crowd of 25,046 giving him a standing ovation.

“It was cool,” Maddon said. “I forgot about the bird, the cockatoo, I can’t remember the name. Really a cool bird. I told (my wife) Jaye I wanted one of those for a while. But then again, she gets stuck taking care of them.

“I was just thinking about all the things we did. You forget sometimes that snake. I think her name was Francine, like a 19-year-old, 20-footer. And then the penguin on my chair. You forget all the goofy stuff you did. But you can see how much fun everybody had.

“I appreciated it. They showed all my pertinent highlights. There’s none actually as a player. It’s primarily as a zookeeper.”

But within the last week, you can see the Cubs getting more serious, concentrating on their at-bats and nailing their pitches. There is internal competition for roster spots and playing time in the postseason, when Maddon becomes ruthless and doesn’t care at all about making friends. This just might be another perfect storm.

Montgomery – who notched the final out in the 10th inning of last year’s World Series Game 7 – put it this way: “I feel ready for anything after how this year’s gone.” 

Are Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 vs. Nationals?

Are Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 vs. Nationals?

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Are the Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 against the Washington Nationals?

“I’m not even anywhere near that,” manager Joe Maddon said during Tuesday’s pregame media session with the Chicago media, immediately shifting his focus back to the decisions he would have to make that night – how hard to push catcher Willson Contreras coming off the disabled list, what the Cubs would get out of lefty Mike Montgomery, how the bullpen sets up – against the Tampa Bay Rays.

“Players can do that kind of stuff. I don’t think managers can. Honestly, I don’t want to say I don’t care about that. I just don’t worry about that, because there’s nothing to worry about yet. Because first of all, he’s got to be well when he pitches, too.”

Arrieta had just completed a throwing session at Tropicana Field and declared himself ready to face the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday at Miller Park. That would be the Cy Young Award winner’s first start since suffering a Grade 1 right hamstring strain on Labor Day. It would set him up to face the St. Louis Cardinals next week at Busch Stadium and start Game 162 against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field.

“The plan is to be out there Thursday,” said Arrieta, who would be limited to 75-80 pitches against the Brewers and build from there, trying to recapture what made him the National League pitcher of the month for August. “The good thing is the arm strength is there – it’s remained there – and I actually feel better for maybe having a little bit of time off.

“The idea is to be able to be out there the last game against Cincinnati – pretty much at full pitch count – and to be ready for the playoffs.”

Five days after that would be the beginning of the NL divisional round and what could be a classic playoff series between the defending champs and Dusty Baker’s Nationals. The Cubs started Jon Lester in Game 1 for all three playoff rounds during last year’s World Series run and their $155 million ace could open a Washington series with an extra day of rest.

“It’s inappropriate to talk about that now,” team president Theo Epstein said. “We have a lot of work to do, and those would be the guys that would help get us there in the first place. If you’re lucky enough to get into that situation, you’d just use all the factors. You guys all know – who’s going the best, who matches up the best, the most experienced – and we figure it out and go from there. But we’re still a good ways away from figuring that one out.”