MILWAUKEE – Matt Garza has a simple message for Jeff Samardzija: “Pitch your way out of there.”
The Cubs used to be a destination, but now it sounds more like a place where the inmates are hoping for early parole. Just ask Garza, who escaped last summer, getting traded to the Texas Rangers in the heat of a pennant race.
Now Garza’s clapping along with the Milwaukee Brewers during the “Happy” music video that plays on Miller Park’s big board. The team with the best record in baseball is dancing to Pharrell Williams, while the Cubs dance around trade-deadline questions in spring training.
Samardzija chatted with Garza for a few minutes during batting practice on Saturday afternoon, before the Cubs absorbed a 5-3 loss that left them 10.5 games behind the first-place Brewers. Who knows what they were laughing about near the cage, but the two old teammates still talk regularly.
They are big personalities, not afraid to say whatever’s on their minds. Garza knows that Samardzija doesn’t have a win yet, even after putting up a 1.53 ERA in five showcase starts.
“I told him: ‘It doesn’t matter, dude. You play in Chicago. I was there and I lost 30 wins in three seasons. So it’s not your fault. Just pitch your way out of it,’” Garza said.
Garza couldn’t resist zinging the Cubs after beating them on Friday night, saying how much he enjoyed playing for a team that expects to win, instead of one “constantly hoping. You kind of run out of hope.”
Rick Renteria sounded aware of the comments, but didn’t watch The Garza Show the last three seasons, so the first-year manager simply said: “I’m glad that he’s in a happy place.”
Renteria said the Cubs still have five months left after watching his team strike out 11 times and quality-start machine Travis Wood break down (five runs in 5.2 innings).
“There have been worst starts in the game of baseball,” Renteria said. “I’m not even worried about this as much as how we’re going to respond tomorrow."
Once again, this is a fast-start-or-else attitude. Samardzija has been skeptical of the business/baseball plans that have forced the Cubs to operate like a small-market team and focus on the summer sell-offs.
“Just pitch your way out of it,” Garza kept saying. “Keep your eyes focused. Keep your eyes straight ahead and just pitch. There’s nothing else you can do.”
Samardzija, 29, also thinks he should be paid like a frontline starter. Garza got four years and $50 million guaranteed in Milwaukee, where the Brewers have started 18-6 and still get to play the Cubs 17 more times this season.
Samardzija will be looking for a much bigger score – and a place committed to winning – when he becomes a free agent after the 2015 season. Samardzija’s camp and Theo Epstein’s front office have philosophical differences and timelines that don’t match up now.
“I don’t know if you want to let somebody like that go,” said Aramis Ramirez, another ex-Cub enjoying life in Milwaukee. “I don’t know what his contract situation is. But, man, he’s pretty good. That’s the guy you should be building around. You just don’t find those guys.”
So if the Cubs trade Samardzija, do you want him over here?
“I’ll take him, yeah,” Ramirez said, laughing. “S---, any team. You ask the other 29 teams, who wouldn’t take Samardzija? He goes out there every fifth day. Doesn’t get hurt. He’s going to give you quality innings and he’s young. He’s the perfect guy for any ballclub.”
Except your 2014 Cubs. Alfonso Soriano said always talking about the future got old in Chicago. The $136 million man felt the bounce after last summer’s trade with the New York Yankees, putting up 21 homers and 60 RBI in his first 80 games back with 27-time World Series champions.
Samardzija should have less than three months left in this uniform, when he will become the latest ex-Cub to feel the adrenaline rush that comes with chasing a ring.
“I’m hoping the best for him,” Garza said. “He’s a young kid who deserves a shot to maybe go win something.”