Garza will be ready when the bell rings

398267.jpg

Garza will be ready when the bell rings

Monday, March 14, 2011
Posted: 6:53 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

PEORIA, Ariz. Until now, Matt Garza has spent his entire career in small markets like Minnesota and Tampa Bay. The Cubs focused on the pitcher who wasnt afraid to go into Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park.

There will almost certainly come a point this season where the fans turn on Garza and he gets booed at Wrigley Field. They will wonder about the prospects the Cubs had to give up to get him, and how expensive it will be to lock up a 27-year-old frontline starter through at least 2013.

That Garza entered Monday with a 14.85 ERA and hadnt yet stretched out to three innings wasnt alarming. But it will be interesting to see what the reactions will be if he doesnt get off to a good start in April.

My own fans getting on me about one or two outings is not that important, Garza said. I got 33 starts I got to make this year, so Im pretty sure one or two or three arent going to be up to their liking.

Ill go in and do my job. You cant really worry about anything else. All I can worry about is trying to get 27 outs and trying to get them as fast as possible.

Garza does not like to slow down and he barreled through Mondays 5-3 loss to the Mariners at Peoria Stadium. He allowed one run on three hits across four innings, using all his pitches and getting closer to where he needs to be.

So much of the spring-training coverage has focused on what the Cubs will do at the back end of their rotation that Garza has flown under the radar at times. On Tuesday Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner the two leading candidates to be the fourth and fifth starters will pitch at the same time some 10 miles apart in split-squad games.

Im no closer to nailing stuff down, manager Mike Quade said. Until I have to make a decision, lets let this thing play out.

That is what the Cubs are essentially doing with Garza, giving him space to bond with new teammates, work on game plans and build his relationship with pitching coach Mark Riggins.

Physically, I feel great. Mentally, Im in a good spot, Garza said. When that bell rings, Ill be ready to go.
Grabow close to return

While the Cardinals and Brewers scramble to deal with injuries to aces Adam Wainwright and Zack Greinke, the Cubs have remained fairly healthy this spring.

Yes, Augie Ojeda (back spasms), Brad Snyder (oblique) and Brett Jackson (shoulder) are dealing with issues, but the Cubs were encouraged by reports on John Grabow, who could be a critical bullpen piece.

The left-handed reliever hasnt appeared in a game since Feb. 27. He threw again Monday and is scheduled to test his sore shoulder on Thursday against the As. The expectation is that Grabow will be ready by Opening Day.

Given his role and given what we need from him, Quade said, he should have enough time, (assuming) no more setbacks.

Catching Hell

In his Oscar-winning work, filmmaker Alex Gibney has targeted scandals: Enron; corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff; and Eliot Spitzers fall from power. So Steve Bartman is a leap, but the long-anticipated ESPN documentary on Cubs fans and Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS is set to make its world premiere. The Tribeca Film Festival announced Monday that Catching Hell will be screened as part of its New York lineup, which runs from April 20 to May 1.

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

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.”

[VIVID SEATS: Buy your Cubs tickets right here]

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.”