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.

Preview: Cubs-Marlins Sunday on CSN

Preview: Cubs-Marlins Sunday on CSN

The Cubs take on the Miami Marlins on Sunday, and you can catch all the action on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com and the NBC Sports App.

Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 11:30 a.m., followed by first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies on the call. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Mike Montgomery (1-3, 2.26 ERA) vs. Edinson Volquez (3-8, 4.19 ERA)

Click here for more stats to make sure you’re ready for the action.

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

Jon Lester: It’s go time for Cubs

Jon Lester: It’s go time for Cubs

MIAMI – Jon Lester dropped his head and wiped the sweat from his face. The Cubs ace didn’t jerk his neck and twist his body, hoping the swing and the sound somehow fooled him. The slow turnaround revealed the obvious – the 75-mph curveball out of his left hand flew over the left-field wall and nearly into the Clevelander bar billed as an adult playground. 

Lester gripped the next ball, stared out into the visual noise at Marlins Park and went to work late Saturday afternoon after J.T. Realmuto’s two-out, three-run homer in the first inning. This is the bulldog determination and tunnel vision that’s been the antidote to the big-market pressures at Fenway Park and Wrigley Field and made Lester such a big-game pitcher.

“You really just have to lock it down,” Lester said after doing just that in a 5-3 win. “You have to try to figure out a way to pitch innings. That was one thing I learned at an early age in Boston with ‘Schill’ (Curt Schilling) and Josh (Beckett). It doesn’t matter. Now we start over. You have to take that mindset of ‘It’s back to zero’ and not keep looking at the scoreboard.”

From that Realmuto moment, Lester retired the next 13 hitters he faced, 15 of the next 16 and 18 of his last 20 at a time when the Cubs needed that performance to buy time for their young hitters, weather a series of injuries and survive a brutal schedule.

Lester believed enough in the coming waves of talent to sign with a last-place team after the 2014 season, and got rewarded with his third World Series ring, continually impressed with this group’s poise and maturity.

The day after getting shut out for the sixth time this season, Addison Russell, Ian Happ, Javier Baez and Albert Almora Jr. – four 24-and-under players – combined to go 7-for-15 with five RBI and four runs scored.

“It’s a test for everybody,” Lester said. “These guys are kind of getting broken in early. They’re going to figure it out and we’re going to go. Now it seems like our guys are really feeling comfortable at the plate. We’re having good at-bats, normal at-bats.

“The results will come. This is, obviously, a results-driven industry. But the plans – as far as on the mound and in the batter’s box – just look a lot smoother right now, a lot cleaner and hopefully we can just keep playing good baseball.”

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The Cubs are 38-36, a half-game behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers and in position to win three consecutive series for the first time since April. Whether or not Lester (5-4, 3.83 ERA) returns to Little Havana for the All-Star Game, he is the bellwether for this rotation.  

“Jonny’s just got this thing going on right now,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He knows where the ball is going and he gets the high-number velocity when he wants to. He’s not just pitching at 92, 93, 94 (mph). It’s in his back pocket when he needs it. And he gets it with command when he wants it.

“As well as I’ve seen him pitch – I know he had a great run last year also – from a stuff perspective, command perspective, it’s as good as he can pitch.”

This $155 million investment will at some point become a sunk cost. The Cubs understand the history of nine-figure contracts for pitchers and how desperately they need reinforcements. But almost 100 innings into this title defense, Lester feels like he’s just getting started. 

“I feel better now than I did in April and May, for sure,” Lester said. “I think bigger bodies just take a while sometimes. Some years are different than others. Some years you come out like gangbusters and you’re ready to go and the body feels fine. And other years it takes a while to get into that rhythm of pitching every five days again. This was one of those years.”