Garza believes Cubs will play with a hard edge

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Garza believes Cubs will play with a hard edge

MESA, Ariz. Dale Sveum walked over and introduced himself to a young player leaving the batting cages, who shook his hand and joked: You just missed the laser show.

That Friday morning scene at Fitch Park will be replayed over and over again across the next few weeks. The Cubs have a first-year manager in Sveum, a front office restructured around Theo Epstein and enough new faces that you kept asking: Who is that guy?

With his hat turned backwards and Oakley sunglasses shielding his eyes, Matt Garza looked relaxed and content, the picture of spring training. He is one of the few big names left.

Pitchers and catchers officially report on Saturday, and will go through their first formal workout on Sunday, but Garza has been in Arizona for almost two weeks. He has made it clear that he would like to stay here with the Cubs.

It became a running joke in the Garza house this offseason, watching the crawl on the bottom of the screen during the winter meetings and wondering where hed be traded next.

No hard feelings, Garza says, because he has already been traded twice and heard the rumors for most of his career.

Epstein has also mentioned the possibility of a contract extension for Garza, who is under club control through the 2013 season. The two sides recently avoided an arbitration hearing by agreeing to a one-year, 9.5 million deal.

Some players set deadlines and dont want to negotiate once they get to camp, or when the season starts, but Garza doesnt seem to have any ultimatums, other than refusing to go through the media.

I dont talk about that, Garza said. Thats between my agent and myself, and then my agent and the front office. If they want to contact us, we contact them, whatever way it works, thats great. But my main focus is on getting ready for April 5 and having some fun again.

Sveum was a coach on a Milwaukee Brewers team that appeared to have a lot of fun (Prince Fielders bowling ball celebration at home plate) and didnt seem to care what other people thought (Nyjer Morgan calling out Alberta Pujols on Twitter).

The new manager doesnt want a vanilla team, and expects his guys to play with an edge. That sounds like Garza screaming into his glove.

You play hard for nine (innings), thats going to determine your identity, Garza said. You can be scrappers. You can be rollovers. You can be whatever. But (if) you play hard for nine, youre going to develop your own identity.

Were going to be a bunch of scrappers. We dont have the big-name power threats. We have (Alfonso Soriano) in the middle of our lineup. We have (Starlin) Castro, whos going to be a great hitter and an even better shortstop this season. We got a lot of (role players, so) were going to be scrappy, and thats the best way to play.

If you got a big bopper and (he) doesnt come through, its not going to (work). But if you got a bunch of guys who hit-and-run, squeeze, bunt, move-em-over, get-em-in, thats what wins you ballgames. The guys we have in place are going to pay attention to a lot of detail. Little things count up here. Thats going to be a huge asset for us.

That has already started, Kerry Wood throwing from the mound and hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo breaking down David DeJesus swing. After two straight fifth-place finishes, and deeper cuts into the major-league payroll, the little things will have to make a difference.

Garza will have to cut down on his errors, the wild, rushed throws to first. He could use more run support after going only 10-10 with a 3.32 ERA last season. But hes still a very good bet for 30 starts and 200 innings, and hes done it before in the playoffs.

Garza spent most of the winter in Chicago, if thats any indication of where his heads at. He took his family on a vacation to Italy. He worked out for awhile at Northwestern University and found another indoor facility in Chicago. He enjoyed driving his Range Rover through the snow. He still thinks he can win here.

I like pitching day games, Garza said. I like waking up early. I like going home and having dinner with my kids, so for me it was a lot of fun. I had a blast last year. Our record didnt indicate it, but if Im on a field, Im having a good time.

I love pitching at Wrigley. Its a blast. A lot of great people have played there. I want to be able to leave a legacy like they did.

How Justin Grimm could be X-factor in Cubs bullpen

How Justin Grimm could be X-factor in Cubs bullpen

Justin Grimm doesn't care what role he's in anymore, a sign of growth from the past few years when he still held out hope of getting a chance to become a starter again or a more glamorous late-inning role if he had to be in the Cubs bullpen.
 
Grimm is now just focused on taking that next step forward, however he can.
 
"I know my talent. I know what I'm capable of doing," Grimm said. "I'm in a really good spot this spring mentally, physically. I feel good and that's all I'm concerned with right now.
 
"Just being ready to go April 1. Whatever's asked of me, not getting caught up in, 'Aw man, I don't have this role.' I really think that's hurt me in the past. And I think that's why you see me probably excel in games that are tight, because I embrace that. You know they're confident in you to come in, shut it down, whatever it may be."
 
Grimm is focused on consistency, eyeing a full season of dominance instead of flashes that last a month or two at a time.
 
From June 27 through Sept. 13 last season, Grimm gave up just one run in 22.2 innings, striking out 30 batters while allowing only 20 baserunners. Yet even with that spectacular run, Grimm's season ERA was still 4.10 after a bad June overall (10.38 ERA) and five earned runs allowed in his last five appearances.
 
Grimm acknowledges that step forward has to come from between his ears. The talent and stuff is there, as evidenced by his 132 strikeouts in 102.1 innings the last two seasons — a mark that ranks him 12th in baseball in that span (among pitchers with at least 100 innings), just behind dominant relievers like Cody Allen, Ken Giles and Shawn Kelley.
 
"It's just a mental confidence thing," Grimm said. "It's not even necessarily getting caught up in [the role]. You come into a seven-run game, you get a little comfortable.
 
"It's finding ways not to do that. Like, 'OK, well it's 0-0 right now, even though we're winning by eight.' And I feel like that's going to happen a lot this year because we got an offense that's going to put up a lot of runs.
 
"How to handle that and stay locked in, I think it's just having a chip on my shoulder. All the guys are getting all the talk and I like it that way. I'm just in the shadows, doing my job and staying locked in. And I think it's going to help out a lot."
 
Grimm’s self-awareness is on point: With a bullpen that added Wade Davis and Koji Uehara to a group that already included Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr., Grimm is something of a forgotten man.

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Only Rondon and Strop have predated Grimm in the Cubs bullpen and the 28-year-old right-hander has posted a 3.29 ERA across 213 appearances over the last four seasons. This year figures to be more of the same, settling into that "mid-innings closer" role Joe Maddon talked up last year with Grimm and Travis Wood.
 
"He fits in everywhere. Probably earlier in the game, he'll be a great bridge guy," Maddon said. "I've always liked the middle-innings closers. They're the kind of guys that help win games.
 
"All our guys are capable to pitch at almost any time. There's going to be some guys that are probably relegated more to earlier in the game and [Grimm] probably will be one of them, unless we get on a nice roll and everybody's a little bit overused.
 
"But I'm here to tell you, man, when he's throwing the ball right, he can get anybody out and he's very good against lefties."
 
When the Cubs sent Jorge Soler to the Kansas City Royals for Davis over the winter, Grimm was immediately drawn to baseball's ERA leader over the last three seasons. In Davis, Grimm sees a guy who's gone through the starter-to-reliever transition and morphed into one of the top arms in the game. Grimm spent a lot of time around Davis this spring, grabbing the veteran to break down Grimm's game in the video room.
 
"I just looked at him like, 'Wade, it's there. I just gotta find a way to consistently do that for six months, not five months, and have one month where I implode,'" Grimm said.
 
"He's been there. He knows. I look to learn a lot this year from him. It's cool to have a guy like that around. I was saying two years ago when Kansas City came to Wrigley, I would just love to sit down and talk with that guy. When we [traded for] him, I was pumped. 
 
"It's time to learn something from him. Everybody's different, so you can't really try to be like that guy, per se. You just gotta find little things that might work for you, that might change a little bit and help you out. That was the majority of our convo. I literally felt like I was reliving my career listening to him. It was pretty cool."
 
Now it's just a matter of carrying it all over into the games that matter.
 
"I'm not worried about what the hell my role's gonna be," Grimm said. "It's here; it's right now. I know what I'm capable of doing. It's just as much as anybody in this room."

Jon Lester thinks Cubs have a special player in Willson Contreras: ‘It’s about time we got an offensive catcher’

Jon Lester thinks Cubs have a special player in Willson Contreras: ‘It’s about time we got an offensive catcher’

MESA, Ariz. – Jon Lester couldn't resist when a reporter mentioned the two home runs Willson Contreras launched off Danny Salazar, an All-Star talent who might have changed last year's World Series if he had been at full strength.

"It's about time we got an offensive catcher," Lester said.

Zing! Lester had already seen David Ross on "Dancing with the Stars" by the time he finished up against the Cleveland Indians and met with reporters on Monday night at Goodyear Ballpark. While Lester knew Grandpa Rossy would appreciate that one-liner, there is also some truth behind it.

Yes, Ross became the security blanket for a $155 million pitcher, helped push and encourage young players like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant and got carried off the field after delivering his own Game 7 homer. But whatever Contreras may lack now in game-calling experience and pitcher psychology, he can make up for it with his rocket arm, smooth swing and willingness to learn.

A camp that began with questions about how Lester would work with Contreras ended with a sincere endorsement.

"Willie's obviously very special, to be serious about it," Lester said. "He's definitely going to add a presence to that lineup as far as protecting ‘Rizz' and ‘KB' to where they're not going to be able to just pitch around those guys. We're going to have some other guys to do some damage in the middle to the bottom of that order.

"He's a special kid, just like anybody else on this team. He's (24), so he'll only get better as time goes on and (he gets) the at-bats and the innings and all that stuff. So I'm excited to see him for a full season and how well he can do back there."

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That's another reason why the defending World Series champs might actually look better on paper than the unforgettable 2016 Cubs. Ross did a "Dancing with the Stars" routine based off Young MC's "Bust a Move," a song released in 1989, or years before Bryant, Contreras, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Albert Almora Jr. were born.

Before the Cubs packed up and left Arizona, Ross made a promotional appearance in Mesa this week and caught up with some old friends like John Lackey.

"We got rid of Rossy," Lackey told reporters as the Cubs finished their Cactus League schedule with Wednesday's 15-11 win over the Oakland A's at Sloan Park. "He stinks. And we should be better. Actually, I was just inside talking to Rossy and he said that, so that's from him."