Mooney: Garza's always on the move

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Mooney: Garza's always on the move

Sunday, Feb. 27, 2011
Posted 8:05 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Matt Garza leaped over the first-base line as he walked to the mound at HoHoKam Park. He appears to be in constant motion.

You rarely see him killing time at his locker. He yells out to the other side of the clubhouse to ask a question. The other day he reluctantly stopped to do a quick interview with a national columnist right there in the middle of the room, no need to find a more quiet space.

Landing Garza became close to an obsession for Jim Hendry. The Cubs general manager spoke with Andrew Friedman, his counterpart in Tampa Bay, basically every day except Christmas and New Years for a month while trying to close the deal.

Hendry sat in the first row watching on a 49-degree Sunday afternoon. Garza didnt throw a breaking ball during his two innings in this Cactus League opener.

Coco Crisp drove one pitch into the right-field bullpen for a grand slam. Matt Carson crushed another off the green batters eye, 410 feet out in center. It ended in a 15-7 loss to the Oakland As in front of 6,892 fans.

The ball felt good coming out of my hand, Garza said. I felt like I was very explosive toward home plate. Everything that needs to be there is there. Location will come with time and more innings. Im not disappointed. Im pretty upbeat about it.

Garza had already moved on from his final line: five runs on five hits in two innings. Its hard to sweat those numbers when youve been an ALCS MVP.

Mike Quade didnt watch Garza throw a single pitch in bullpen sessions or batting practice during the two weeks the Cubs trained at Fitch Park. The manager had read all the reports on Garza, but mostly wanted to see how he carried himself.

Hes almost more wired than I am, Quade said. Hes going a mile a minute.

You combine talent with energy with what looks like really good work ethic does it get any better than that?

Garza paused long enough Sunday morning to watch episodes of The Simpsons and The Office on an iPad-type device. Headphones plugged into his ears, he leaned back in his chair with his legs on a water fountain.

Hes always laughing, always smiling, said first baseman Carlos Pena, a teammate in Tampa Bay. (But) when he gets on the mound, (he) wants to beat the other team so bad and dominate. Its just cool to see how he can turn it on like that. You think hes just unapproachable, the next thing you know hes just the friendliest guy.

But this doesnt seem like someone who sits still for long. A Twins first-round pick made it to the majors by his second professional season, rising from Class-A Fort Myers to Double-A New Britain to Triple-A Rochester to Minnesota in 2006. Hes still only 27 and has already been traded twice.

I was watching him (the other day) in the bullpen at 8:15 in the morning and he was just as intense there as he would be at 7 at night, catcher Koyie Hill said. A lot of that is just adrenaline, which is good. Coming to a new place, hes excited. Hopefully it doesnt wear off. I dont think it will. I dont see it happening.

Garza has said that hes not playing to the trade, which cost the Cubs some of the best prospects in their system. But it wasnt a complete win-now move, because Garza is under team control through 2013. So in time this should be his manager, his team, his league.

On Sunday Garza even got the first hit he could remember. Someone supposedly threw the ball into the Cubs dugout. He was laughing about that. The pitching numbers didnt matter.

It was a good jumping-off point, Garza said.

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

Cubs: Ben Zobrist's path back to October and a possible three-peat

Cubs: Ben Zobrist's path back to October and a possible three-peat

MESA, Ariz. – Ben Zobrist is focused on a personal three-peat, not worrying about a changing of the guard or any awkward moments with Javier Baez. Cubs manager Joe Maddon has repeatedly said that Zobrist will be the primary second baseman and another "Javy Being Javy" highlight reel from the World Baseball Classic won't change that thinking right now.

Zobrist sees the big picture better than almost anyone else in the clubhouse after going undrafted out of Eureka High School in downstate Illinois, perfecting the super-utility role Maddon envisioned with the Tampa Bay Rays and helping transform the 2015 Kansas City Royals into World Series champions.

While Baez started all 17 playoff games at second base last year, bursting onto the scene as the National League Championship co-MVP, Zobrist became the World Series MVP with his clutch hitting and still has three seasons left on his $56 million contract.

Maddon didn't spare anyone's feelings during the playoffs, turning $184 million outfielder Jason Heyward into a part-time player, giving a quick hook to major-league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks and shunning relievers not named Aroldis Chapman.

"We haven't had an extended conversation about it," Zobrist said. "But at the beginning of spring, we talked about it. I think his words were: ‘I really think rest is the next improvement in player performance.' Learning what rest means, what good rest is for players and what kind of rest certain players need versus others.

"That doesn't necessarily mean just because you're 35. It could mean you're 25 and you still got to take care of yourself and make sure you're getting the proper rest. Because we have such a deep team, he's able to do that at any given point in time and still feel confident about the team we have on the field.

"It's a good problem to have when you have really good players not playing and sitting on the bench. We had that all last year and we had guys accept their role and just buy into the team concept.

"The makeup of this team is the same, basically. We've got a few new guys and they've got the same mindset, so I anticipate more of the same."

Injuries are one variable that prevents Maddon from getting too stressed out about dividing the playing time over 162 games while the NCAA tournament is still going. Zobrist's stiff neck felt good enough to hit leadoff and play right field in Tuesday afternoon's 10-7 loss to the San Francisco Giants, seeing his first Cactus League action since March 19.

Zobrist plans to play again on Wednesday in Mesa and catch up with more at-bats on the minor-league side of the complex. Assuming Zobrist and All-Star shortstop Addison Russell (stiff back) are ready for Opening Night, Baez will be an NLCS MVP, all-WBC talent waiting for the right matchup or break in the schedule or to sub in as a defensive replacement.

"It's pretty impressive, looking around at the young talent in this clubhouse," Zobrist said. "All throughout spring training, we've seen there's definitely other talent coming, so this team is poised to have a good, long run of success. If everybody stays healthy and we stay together, this is a very good team.

"The biggest thing that I go into the season with this year is we have to be healthy and we have to make sure that we don't relax too much. That's the temptation for teams that just won, to go: OK, well, we're tired, because we had a long season last year and you kind of just assume things are going to go as well as they did.

"You can't assume anything. No matter how good this team is, we have to still go out and execute and perform – and that's going to determine where we are in the standings."

In real time, as the Cubs experienced their lowest moments during last year's regular season, Zobrist correctly pointed out the exhaustion factor while the team played 24 days in a row, losing 15 of their last 21 games before the All-Star break.

What looks like overwhelming depth on paper should help the 2017 Cubs survive and advance into October.

"It's huge," Zobrist said. "It's up and down the lineup on offense. It's all throughout the pitching staff and on the defensive side. It's so deep that you can absorb a little bit of injury here and there.

"With that being said, there are certain guys that you just don't want to lose. So we got to protect everybody. We got to protect our horses – both on the mound and in the lineup – and just make sure that we have our key cogs in there. And if we do, we're as good, if not better, than anybody out there."

Cubs return Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to Yankees as roster comes into focus

Cubs return Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to Yankees as roster comes into focus

MESA, Ariz. - Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella - and a combination of right/left, outfield/infield and contractual considerations - appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

The Cubs returned Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to the New York Yankees on Tuesday and assigned injured non-roster players Jemile Weeks and Chris Dominguez to minor-league camp. That left 27 players still technically in the mix, though depth catcher Carlos Corporan isn't really part of that conversation.

The projected eight-man bullpen would look like this: Wade Davis; Koji Uehara; Pedro Strop; Hector Rondon; Carl Edwards Jr.; Justin Grimm; and lefties Mike Montgomery and Brian Duensing.

Szczur, who is out of minor-league options, could be a good fourth outfielder on a team that didn't have so much depth and World Series expectations, making him a potential trade chip for pitching. La Stella offers infield insurance and a left-handed bat off the bench.