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.

Kris Bryant’s MVP performance leads Cubs to comeback win at Dodger Stadium

Kris Bryant’s MVP performance leads Cubs to comeback win at Dodger Stadium

LOS ANGELES – The “MVP! MVP! MVP!” chants started at Dodger Stadium late Friday night, Cubs fans celebrating Kris Bryant’s two-run homer in the 10th inning and cheering on this entertaining comeback win.

Until Clayton Kershaw returns to full strength, stares down hitters from 60 feet, six inches and unleashes his entire arsenal, it’s impossible to know how the Cubs would stack up against Los Angeles in October. But it’s still safe to say this would be an epic playoff matchup between two big-market, star-studded franchises, with two iconic ballparks becoming the backdrop, celebrity row after celebrity row.

As a quiet homebody who happens to have his own billboards and marketing deals – but doesn’t do bulletin-board quotes or brag about his game – Bryant is not exactly a Hollywood personality. But this is also a goal-oriented individual who doesn’t shy away from the pressure and the expectations and absolutely wants to be the best at his craft.

The Cubs won this round with Bryant, who launched his 34th and 35th home runs in a 6-4 victory, an MVP-worthy season becoming the sequel to his Rookie of the Year campaign.

“It’s humbling,” Bryant said. “You grow up hearing that kind of stuff on TV. To experience it in real life is pretty cool.”

It became hard to hear Bryant inside the visiting clubhouse, because teammates chanted “MVP!” and sung along with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre as “Nuthin But a G Thang” played on the sound system. But for most of the night, it looked like it would be a silent room postgame as the resilient Dodgers took 3-1 and 4-2 leads.

Until the eighth inning, when Bryant launched a home run off Joe Blanton that landed in the center-field seats blocked off for the batter’s eye. And then the ninth inning showed why manager Joe Maddon will want Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward in a playoff lineup.

In the middle of a frustrating offensive season where he’s felt the weight of a $184 million contract, Heyward led off by ripping a double into the right-field corner off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. Heyward hustled to third base when new Dodgers catcher Carlos Ruiz couldn’t handle strike three against Jorge Soler. Heyward ran home to score the game-tying run when a Jansen wild pitch sailed toward the backstop.

That set the stage for Bryant, who brought up the fielding error he made in the fifth inning during his postgame interview on Channel 7 after hitting the game-winning homer off lefty Adam Liberatore. All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo may set the tone in the clubhouse, but Bryant already brings tunnel vision and a high degree of professionalism to an 82-45 team, even at the age of 24. 

“He just doesn’t quit,” Heyward said. “He wants to be in every spot. He goes up there and has his at-bat – and that’s it.

“You can talk about why he’s been hitting the ball well, this and that, but he has a good approach. It’s that simple. Other than that, he works his tail off every day to try and go out there and help us win.

“When you have that gift – and you have that work ethic – the bottom line is a lot of good things can happen.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

A resourceful $250 million team won’t fade away, even with Kershaw (back) not pitching for two months, one of 27 players the Dodgers have stashed on the disabled list, tying a major-league record. Los Angeles has cycled through 14 different starting pitchers, relying on depth, a powerful lineup and a strong bullpen to surge into first place and hold onto a one-game lead over the San Francisco Giants in the National League West.

“How about last year?” Maddon said. “We beat up on the Mets during the season, we go (into the playoffs) and we can’t even touch them. It’s such a different animal. People get hot or people get cold.

“I’m not going to diminish the fact I’m going to be paying attention. But things change. Trends can be so trendy, to quote Yogi. So I don’t get too far ahead, because things can change very quickly.”

Like Bryant going from a promising player with a few holes in his swing who looked worn down at times last season – to an MVP frontrunner with a .303 average, 89 RBI, 107 runs scored, a .982 OPS and the versatility to play third base, defensively shift across the infield and move to the outfield.

Kershaw vs. Bryant would be must-see TV in October.

How Mike Montgomery fits into big-picture plans for Cubs

How Mike Montgomery fits into big-picture plans for Cubs

LOS ANGELES – In their never-ending search for young pitching, the Cubs discussed a Matt Moore deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, but wouldn’t consider trading Kyle Schwarber. To get Moore at the Aug. 1 deadline, the San Francisco Giants had to surrender the runner-up to Kris Bryant in last season’s National League Rookie of the Year race (Matt Duffy), plus two more prospects.

Moore finished one out short of a no-hitter on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, throwing 133 pitches against a deep Los Angeles lineup, two-plus years after having Tommy John surgery on his left elbow. Whether or not Moore helps shift the balance of power in the National League West, the Cubs should still have enough pitching.

To get through October. As long as John Lackey (shoulder) comes off the disabled list in early September and the rest of the rotation stays healthy. Surviving next season and beyond could be a different story, if Jake Arrieta becomes another team’s 2018 Opening Day starter, if Jon Lester breaks down in the middle of that $155 million megadeal and assuming Lackey finally retires around the 3,000-inning mark.

All that makes Mike Montgomery an interesting lefty swingman if the Cubs are going to maintain The Foundation for Sustained Success.

“I think he is a major-league starter, regardless of what happens tonight,” manager Joe Maddon said before Friday’s wild 6-4 comeback win that took 10 innings at Dodger Stadium. “This guy has the ability to be a solid major-league starter based on his strength level, his delivery, the variety of pitches that he throws. The strike-throwing ability is exceptional. He’s got all those different things going on.

“Just be a little bit patient with (him) and let him get his feet on the ground somewhere, because he’s the kind of guy that can take off if he gets comfortable in his environment.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

If Montgomery didn’t ace this audition, he also didn’t bomb against a first-place team in front of a big crowd (48,609), either, showing the potential the Cubs saw in making last month’s trade with the Seattle Mariners.

Montgomery kept the Cubs in the game before Bryant’s clutch performance, allowing three runs in five innings and minimizing the damage on a night where he didn’t have pinpoint control (four walks, hit batter, wild pitch, 49 strikes across 91 pitches).

The Cubs are in trouble if Montgomery somehow winds up in this year’s playoff rotation, but he checks a lot of boxes for the future as someone with youth (27), size (6-foot-5), first-round/top-prospect pedigree, a high groundball rate and a service-time clock that won’t make him a free agent until after the 2021 season.

Cubs pay their respects to Vin Scully at Dodger Stadium

Cubs pay their respects to Vin Scully at Dodger Stadium

LOS ANGELES – There will never be another Vin Scully, who joined the Dodgers in Brooklyn as a kid out of Fordham University, moved to Los Angeles and became a face of the franchise, doing the one-man show that still connects and entertains generations of baseball fans.

The Cubs paid their respects to the legendary broadcaster before Friday night’s game at Dodger Stadium, with manager Joe Maddon and catcher David Ross visiting the Vin Scully Press Box for another photo op before the lyrical voice retires at the end of this season, at the age of 88.

“You’re ascending into the clouds to meet Mr. Scully,” Maddon said. “That’s like the window to the world up there when you sit in his booth and he talks about the purple mountain majesties on a clear day beyond the outfield fences here.”

The Cubs presented Scully with a green “67” scoreboard panel – to mark the number of seasons he’s worked Dodger games – as well as a Dodger banner from Wrigley Field. Maddon also gave Scully, who rocks the conservative coat-and-tie look on TV, several T-shirts from his collection, including “Try Not to Suck.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Maddon said he told Scully: “Maybe at the end of the year, sitting by your pool with the sandals on, you can put a T-shirt on where no one can see you and just be Vin.”

As the tributes pour in from around baseball, CSN Chicago will carry Scully’s third-inning call live during Sunday’s broadcast from Chavez Ravine.

“He makes you feel like he’s known you for the last 50 years,” Maddon said. “Just really kind and gracious. And you have to be all of that to survive that many years. Besides being good, it’s his authenticity and how he interacts with people that really (keeps) you on that stage that long.”