MILWAUKEE – Way back in spring training, the Cubs were getting questions about the possibility of the front office blowing up the team at the trade deadline.
So it comes as no surprise that between now and July 31 everything will be viewed through that prism. There will be tons of misinformation recycled on Twitter and across cyberspace.
That’s been Matt Garza’s default setting ever since he came up with the Minnesota Twins. During Thursday’s 7-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers, he again showed none of that bothers him.
“It was pretty awesome,” Garza said afterward. “The first rumor I remember to this day was me for (Alfonso) Soriano to the Nationals and I was like: ‘All right! 40/40 guy! Yeah!’ Now it’s just, you know, whatever. You just keep plugging away.
“Someone asked me the other day: ‘Well, do you sit by your phone?’ I said: ‘No, no phone calls, no worries.’”
For the flock of scouts that traveled to Miller Park, Garza made it worth their while, taking a no-hitter into the fourth inning, allowing only one run and finishing with 10 strikeouts. He’s regained the feel for his slider and kept hitting 94 mph in his seventh and final inning.
Team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer see the bidding war coming. All five teams in the American League East began the day above .500, while only six games separated the five teams in the National League West.
“Obviously, there are a lot of calls this time of year,” Epstein said. “We have a number of guys performing really well, including some guys who are under contract or under control for years to come. So it’s not like we’re rushing out to trade those guys. We’ll see. We owe it to the organization to explore it and see if there’s something that makes us a lot better going forward.”
It certainly looks like Garza (3-1, 3.83 ERA), who’s positioned to become a free agent after this season, is spending his final weeks in a Cubs uniform.
Garza very likely would have been traded last summer if he hadn’t hurt his right elbow. (The Cubs were in advanced discussions with the Texas Rangers.) He immediately knew something was wrong on July 21 at Busch Stadium when he walked off the mound after striking out St. Louis Cardinals slugger Matt Holliday with a 96 mph fastball.
That stress reaction, combined with a strained lat muscle in spring training, had clouded the Garza market. But across his last three starts combined, he’s allowed only two runs in 22 innings, piling up 23 strikeouts against five walks.
Even if those performances came against the New York Mets, Houston Astros and last-place Brewers (32-45), he still made his bones with the Tampa Bay Rays, putting a 2008 ALCS MVP award on his resume.
“I felt pretty good mechanically, physically, mentally,” Garza said. “I’m just kind of attacking and getting back to where I was before I left. I like where I’m at.”
Garza got his personal catcher again – though manager Dale Sveum doesn’t want to label it that way – and Dioner Navarro responded by drilling a three-run homer, taking a hard foul ball off his mask and guiding his hyperactive pitcher through seven strong innings.
Navarro has seen Garza at his best in Tampa Bay, where he cemented his reputation as a big-game pitcher. Contending teams will want someone who can swing a pennant race.
“Nobody can control that,” Navarro said. “Nobody can dictate what’s going to happen in the future. We just got to get ready for the next game. That’s how he deals with it.”
The Cubs are 33-44 and know which direction they’re heading. Garza has no interest in telling the front office what he thinks about the future, another sign those long-term extension talks gained no momentum.
“My job is to get ready for every five days (and) perform,” Garza said. “That’s not for them. It’s for me, for my 24 guys in here. That’s what I need to do. Those rumors are rumors. I’ve been a part of them my entire career, so it’s nothing new.
“I just play every five days for the 24 guys that are in here with me.”