Chicago Cubs

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.

Mike Montgomery will gladly aid Cubs as spot starter, but could this be a mini audition for 2018 rotation?

mike_montgomery_0821.jpg
USA TODAY

Mike Montgomery will gladly aid Cubs as spot starter, but could this be a mini audition for 2018 rotation?

Jon Lester isn’t expected to be on the disabled list for long, which of course is great news for the Cubs.

But while he’s there, it’s once again time for Mike Montgomery to audition for a spot in the team’s 2018 starting rotation.

The Cubs are facing the possibility of losing two members of that starting staff this offseason, when both Jake Arrieta and John Lackey will be free agents. Montgomery seems like a logical replacement, but he’ll need to be better than he’s been as a starter this season. He’s put up a 5.13 ERA in eight starts.

He’ll get another opportunity to show his stuff over the next week or so, as he makes one or two spot starts with Lester on the shelf resting up his left lat tightness and general shoulder fatigue.

“I don’t want to see anybody get hurt, especially our ace. But it’s a challenge. I’m looking forward to going out there and helping the team win,” Montgomery said over the weekend. “I’m going to go out there and prepare and be ready to help this team get to the playoffs.”

Montgomery doesn’t have to worry about instilling confidence in his bosses. Joe Maddon and Theo Epstein both lauded Montgomery’s efforts since he was acquired about a year ago, in the middle of the 2016 team’s march to that curse-smashing World Series win. It was Montgomery who earned the save in Game 7.

And again this season Montgomery has given plenty of reason for those guys to have confidence in him. He’s turned in a strong 2.57 ERA in 27 relief appearances, one of the more reliable arms out of what is becoming an increasingly shaky bullpen. This past Thursday, he relieved the early-to-depart Lester, pitching 4.1 shutout innings and allowing just three hits and a walk against the Cincinnati Reds.

Throw in the versatility of being able to effectively switch between starting and relieving, and that’s a recipe for sticking on a big league roster.

“He’s good about bouncing back and forth,” Maddon said. “He’s been invaluable to us the last couple years. He’s still learning his craft. Every time I talk to him it’s kind of like the little lightbulb constantly goes off for him regarding his stuff and how to utilize it. That’s what I’ve been talking about with him the last couple years. This guy’s got all kinds of tools in the toolbox but he doesn’t really know how to utilize them all, and I think he’s finally understanding the cutter, the curve, the changeup to go with the fastball. He’s one of those guys that he should never get wild with his fastball because his pitches are so good and he can throw them for a strike.”

Montgomery’s reliability has been enough that Epstein said there’s no plan for the Cubs to add another starting pitcher before this month’s waiver trade deadline. Of course, the fact that Lester’s injury isn’t as bad as initially feared and the July acquisition of Jose Quintana factors into that, as well.

“We’ve expended a lot of prospect capital trying to make this team better. We think it’s just a start or two (that Lester will miss), and Mike Montgomery is more than capable of filling in,” Epstein said. “He’s thrown the ball really well, like what we saw from him (Thursday). So we’re going to fill that vacancy internally with Mike and go from there.”

While every start made by any pitcher this season seems important — the Cubs entered Monday’s day off with just a two-game lead on the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central standings, with a playoff spot hardly guaranteed — Montgomery’s efforts could have just as great an effect on next season. If Arrieta and Lackey both end up departing via free agency, the Cubs will need some replacements. Montgomery figures to be among the first options, especially if this midseason audition goes well.

Of course, Montgomery is happy to do whatever he needs to to help his team. He’s not complaining about a bullpen role or one that has him shuttling between the relief corps and the rotation. But he admitted that starting is his goal, meaning the importance of this moment likely hasn't been lost on him.

“Yeah, absolutely, I wanted to start. But also I wanted to be a guy who could fill another role and hopes that makes our team better,” he said. “If me starting makes us better in their mind, then that’s what I want ideally. But I’ve realized I can’t always control that, I can go out there and pitch well. If I pitch well, they’re probably going to give me more opportunities, which is probably going to lead to starting.

“I think it’s because I spent five years in Triple-A from the time I was 21 and I had a bigger ego. And then you realize that you just want to be in the big leagues and that Triple-A kind of stinks. I think it’s just how I’ve gotten to this point. And coming here last year from a team that was trying to get in the playoffs to a team that was clearly going to win the division, you realize that your role isn’t to come here and start making demands, it’s to come here and just do your job.”

Right now, the Cubs need Montgomery to fill the void while Lester rests up. And if he can make his starts look a little more like his bullpen outings, he’ll do just that. And if that’s what happens, maybe they’ll call on him next season to do a whole lot more.

That Anthony Rizzo is so hot right now: Cubs' first baseman named NL Player of the Week

anthony_rizzo_0821.jpg
USA TODAY

That Anthony Rizzo is so hot right now: Cubs' first baseman named NL Player of the Week

That Anthony Rizzo is so hot right now.

And Major League Baseball noticed.

Rizzo was announced as the National League Player of the Week on Monday after a terrific performance last week.

The Cubs' first baseman collected 12 hits, drove in 13 runs and slashed a ridiculous .429/.484/.750.

The Cubs had a pretty good week as a team, too, winning five of their seven games against the visiting Cincinnati Reds and Toronto Blue Jays.

They take their three-game winning streak to Ohio to start a three-game set with the Reds on Tuesday.