No excuses: Cubs cant close deal for Garza

434349.jpg

No excuses: Cubs cant close deal for Garza

Sunday, April 3, 2011Posted: 4:30 PM Updated: 7:45

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Hooded sweatshirt pulled over his head and earphones plugged in, Matt Garza views his job through a very narrow prism: He gets paid to get outs.

Garza isnt in it for the style points, and he promised everyone that he would be ready when the bell rings. He slogged through spring training, complaining about the mound and the Arizona weather. Or, as manager Mike Quade said, No excuses.

Garza answered any doubters with Sundays performance in front of 30,857 fans at Wrigley Field. The Cubs just didnt finish as strong as Garza and couldnt close the deal for him in a 5-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

It was a game as weird as Garzas final line across seven innings: three runs, zero walks, 12 hits and 12 strikeouts, which were both career highs. It marked the most strikeouts for a pitcher in his Cubs debut since at least 1915.

The day before, you saw Garza on the top step of the dugout, cheering on his teammates like some utility infielder. He does not sit still and isnt afraid of the big stage. Thats why the Cubs gave up the ransom Tampa Bay demanded in their biggest, boldest offseason move.

Adjusting to a new league and a new city, Garza will practice bunting and speak with reporters after each start. But he doesnt care much about hitting or making friends with the media. Hes only 27 and has already been traded twice. He definitely has an edge.

I have to stay focused and stay prepared, Garza said. If I dont have to talk to anybody for two days, thats even better for me.

Garza said he had no doubts not one after putting up a 10.38 ERA in the Cactus League. The Cubs liked his velocity and the way the ball looked coming out of his hand. He went right after the Pirates (1-2), throwing 80 of his 106 pitches for strikes.

He was pretty good today, catcher Geovany Soto said. Hes been doing a good job (of pitching to) his strength and within himself and keeping everything mellow. But you dont want to take anything from the guy.

Garza left with a 4-3 lead and then the Cubs really started to push their luck.

The Cubs (1-2) had already watched a fan spill a drink onto outfielder Garrett Jones during Carlos Penas two-run double off the right-field wall in the fourth inning.
Kerry Wood loaded the bases in the eighth before Jose Tabata flew out to right field. Tyler Colvin made a perfect throw to the plate and Soto smacked Jason Jaramillo in the face for the tag and inning-ending double play.

It unraveled in the ninth inning. Carlos Marmol walked the first batter he faced and blew the save even though only one ball got out of the infield. The Cubs got the potential tying run to third, but the game ended as Marlon Byrd grounded into a double play.

In the end, the Cubs lost another series to the Pirates, a team with an Opening Day payroll that USA Today calculated to be 45 million, or about 90 million less than what theyre spending on the North Side.

The Cubs went 5-10 against the Pirates last season and need to take advantage of what looks like an easier early schedule in 2011. This was an opportunity missed. The only positive spin was that Garza looked more like the 2008 ALCS MVP.

Ive seen Matt at his best and today he was awesome, said Pena, who played with Garza in Tampa Bay. He gave us a shot. I was just disappointed we couldnt deliver (the win).

Now its time for Garza to tunnel back into the routine hes developed between starts.

I get in a zone, he said. I really dont let a lot of things bother me.

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

As Cubs search for answers, Scott Boras doesn’t believe Jake Arrieta is feeling the pressure of free agency

As Cubs search for answers, Scott Boras doesn’t believe Jake Arrieta is feeling the pressure of free agency

LOS ANGELES – It’s harder to find perspective when the lights are flashing all around Dodger Stadium and the techno music is thumping and Adrian Gonzalez just launched a two-run homer 429 feet to straightaway center. 

But that’s why Jake Arrieta pays Scott Boras. The super-agent sat in a front-row seat behind home plate on Friday night, watching his client go through another up-and-down start for a Cubs team that needs Arrieta to pitch more like an ace.

It’s easy to lose sight of this during a 4-0 loss where the Dodgers looked more like the team on a mission after getting eliminated from last year’s National League Championship Series.

But Arrieta is someone who has already experienced the low points that made him think about quitting baseball as he shuttled back and forth between the Orioles and Triple-A – and the intoxicating high from ending the 108-year drought and creating so much joy for generations of Cubs fans.

So Boras isn’t buying the idea that Arrieta might be feeling the weight of his upcoming free agency.

“Coming from Baltimore to here and establishing himself in the big leagues was the major arc of his career,” Boras said, “the most difficult moment of illustrating that he is an everyday major-leaguer. The fact that he has the skills, and what he has up here (in his head), the dynamic of winning two World Series games and things like that, I’d say he’s (been) measured. When you win World Series games, that’s the most important thing.

“If you want me to measure pressure, I’d say that’s World Series cojones.”

To get back into October, the Cubs will need more consistency from Arrieta (5-4, 4.92 ERA), who’s still fine-tuning his delivery and not always getting that extra burst of velocity that made him a Cy Young Award winner and unhittable one night at Dodger Stadium.

Two aging Dodgers crushed Arrieta fastballs. Chase Utley – who began the game hitting .204 – drove one over the center-field wall in the third inning. Gonzalez had gone 131 plate appearances this season before notching his first home run with two outs in the sixth inning.

“I understand how difficult this game is,” Arrieta said. “It’s a work in progress. I’m still not exactly where I would like to be. But it’s close. It really is.”

Even as Arrieta worked through command/mechanical issues last season, he still wound up winning 18 games and limiting opponents to a .583 OPS that ranked second in the majors. It took until the middle of last August before he gave up his 10th home run, or where he’s already at through 10 starts this season. 

[MORE CUBS: The ‘friendly rivalry’ between Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman with Cubs, Dodgers becoming NL superpowers]

“The one that Utley hit out was on the corner – that’s a good piece of hitting,” Arrieta said. “The one to Gonzalez was too much plate in a 3-1 count. It was elevated. Willson (Contreras) called a changeup. I shook to the fastball. I expected to locate a little bit better than I did. But I feel like if I continue on this progression, I think I’ll be OK.

“I don’t intend to continue to give up as much hard contact, especially balls over the fence. It’s been a little bit of tough luck, but they just flat out beat us.”

There’s some truth to that – Arrieta continued to pile up the strikeouts (nine) and limit the walks (one) – while Dodger lefty Alex Wood extended his scoreless streak to 25.1 innings before handing the game over to a dominant bullpen. But whether it’s an underperforming offense, a defense not playing at the same historic level or those velocity questions, Arrieta doesn’t appear to have the same margin for error anymore.

All those elements could come roaring back, but the Cubs are now a 25-22 team that could be looking to replace 60 percent of the rotation by Opening Day 2018.

“You don’t really think about (it),” Boras said. “When the Cubs come to town, I look at the standings: OK, where are they at? They’re trying to win again. This club’s a good club and you think about what moves they’re going to make to make it better.

“Jake’s total focus has always been about putting himself in a position that few players get to be in – and that is being on a club where you can win more.”

Whatever happens over the next several months, this will be the reservoir of confidence Arrieta draws from, and ultimately his legacy as a Cub.

“When the postseason hits, it’s Jake’s greatest measurement,” Boras said. “I don’t know, I heard winning a World Series in Chicago was difficult.”

Cubs: Is Joe Maddon turning Kyle Schwarber into a platoon player?

Cubs: Is Joe Maddon turning Kyle Schwarber into a platoon player?

LOS ANGELES – Joe Maddon doesn’t want to put the platoon label on a young hitter who became a World Series legend before his 24th birthday. But the Cubs manager also isn’t planning to start Kyle Schwarber against left-handers anytime soon. 

“If people want to say that, I can’t avoid it,” Maddon said Friday at Dodger Stadium, where Schwarber sat against lefty Alex Wood, who took a 20.1-inning scoreless streak into this National League Championship Series rematch. “I’m going to do that until I feel good about him, because I don’t want to lay too many at-bats on him in a negative situation.

“If he’s not swinging the bat well against righties, it’s a bad assumption that I’m going to think he’s going to swing it well against lefties. Then I’m just putting him in a deeper hole by throwing him out there, just based on really bad logic.

“I’m just trying to pick his spots right now to get him going. Once he goes, he can play against anybody.”

[MORE CUBS: The 'friendly rivalry' between Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman]

Schwarber – who’s hitting .181 with a .656 OPS and 55 strikeouts in less than 200 plate appearances this season – will start Saturday against Dodger right-hander Brandon McCarthy. But even with Clayton Kershaw looming on Sunday, Maddon didn’t want to give Schwarber the entire weekend off, the way Jason Heyward mentally reset last August at Coors Field.

“I don’t think it’s there yet,” Maddon said. “I’ve had good conversations with him. I think it’s a different set of circumstances.”

For the Cubs, this doesn’t really change their overall evaluation of Schwarber as a core player and potentially one of the most dangerous left-handed sluggers in the game. But Maddon has been backing away from the idea of Schwarber as a leadoff hitter, trying to reboot the player who had been such an intimidating postseason presence.

“My concern when the guy is struggling a little bit is you don’t want him to get him too many at-bats,” Maddon said. “It’s really hard to get yourself out of that mental, physical and numerical hole. By not getting him as many at-bats, it will be easy to get back to a number he’s more comfortable with.

“I don’t care about that – I really don’t. I’m looking at his past, process, what he’s doing for the team in regards to on-base, everything else. But for the guy himself, he looks up at the scoreboard and he sees numbers everywhere and they evaluate themselves based on numbers.

“I don’t want him to do that. I just want him to get back into the process of having good at-bats.”