Cubs: Garza keeps raising his game, blocking out distractions

Cubs: Garza keeps raising his game, blocking out distractions

July 20, 2013, 11:45 pm
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DENVER – Matt Garza once responded to the nonstop trade rumors by declaring: “I’ll pitch on the freaking moon.” That might be the only place he could escape all the speculation now.

Forty-four years to the day Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first walked on the moon, a Garza sighting was the only thing Cubs beat writers cared about. And there he was on Saturday at Coors Field, zipping through the clubhouse, iPad in hand, sticking to his routine before a 9-3 loss to the Colorado Rockies. 

That deal with the Texas Rangers that seemed so close on Twitter never materialized. So moments before first pitch, Garza gave pitching coach Chris Bosio a fist bump, throwing his arms out into the air like LeBron James. He bobbed his head to the music before settling into his normal spot on the top edge of the dugout.

Garza – who once drew unfair “Zambrano Light” comparisons when former general manager Jim Hendry made him the centerpiece of an eight-player deal with the Tampa Bay Rays in January 2011 – has blocked out the noise remarkably well.

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“He’s been unbelievable,” pitcher Jeff Samardzija said. “It’s not an easy situation to be in, especially a guy like Garza, married with – what’s he got? – five or six kids in that household? So you’re dealing with a family, too. He knows if something happens, he’s got to uproot his family and move on. 

“To come here every day and still work hard and do his work for this team speaks volumes about the guy. And if he does get moved, the team that gets him is getting one heck of a pitcher, one heck of a guy, too. Maybe things will fall through and he’ll just get to stick around with us for the rest of the year.”

That’s wishful thinking. It wasn’t Garza’s medicals that held up a deal with the Rangers on Friday night, and he said his agent’s been told by the front office to expect a trade. His next scheduled start is Monday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field, and that could be a soft deadline. He will be missed.

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“I love Garza,” manager Dale Sveum said. “He’s obviously pitched very well and he’s probably one of the more outspoken players that I’ve had, never afraid to come into my office and talk and have a beer.”

As the Cubs (43-52) try to collect long-term assets, they will sell high on a pitcher who’s gone 5-0 with a 1.24 ERA in his last six starts and has ALCS MVP hardware.

It’s gotten to the point where a Chris Rusin tweet – “I've been trapped on the runway for an hr now! Please get this plane in the air!” – can raise suspicions and fuel speculation. Rusin, who’s viewed as a next man up from Iowa, was actually trying to get to Round Rock – not Phoenix – after being granted a few days at home for pitching in the Triple-A All-Star Game.  

Carlos Villanueva – who got slammed by the Rockies (47-51), giving up seven runs in four innings – credited Garza for minimizing the distractions at a time when people only see the baseball card stats and Twitter hashtags. The countdown toward free agency wore on Villanueva last year with the Toronto Blue Jays.

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“The questions started for me in August,” Villanueva said. “I’ll be honest with you, by the end of the year, I was more mentally drained than physically. (But Garza’s) a very tough man, mentally and physically, and he’s been an example (for everyone in here).

“It’s not easy. You try to block it out of your mind. But when the same questions (are asked) every day…

“You want to think about it (as little as) possible and you keep getting reminded about it. Not only media, but friends and family and even their own teammates. It’s got to be tiring. But he’s kept himself ready and he’s put himself in good position. Hopefully, what’s gonna happen happens soon and he can just finish out his season strong.” 

Garza has never won more than 15 games in a season. He doesn’t have a World Series ring or an All-Star selection on his resume. But at the moment he’s the perfect hired gun for a team looking to play deep into October.

“He’s been the ultimate pro about everything,” Sveum said. “It’s a strange thing for anybody to be part of when you’re the most elite starting pitcher on the (market). People are starting with trade talks and you’re ‘That Guy.’ It’s not an everyday, normal atmosphere. It’s not real fun coming to the park knowing today could be the day.”