Cubs

Cubs: Matt Garza feels like hes been locked in a cage

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Cubs: Matt Garza feels like hes been locked in a cage

Matt Garza would probably be on edge anyway.

Even if his season hadnt ended July 21 last year. Even if he wasnt about 10 days away from getting on the mound and throwing a bullpen session. Even if he wasnt pitching for a big contact in his platform year. Thats just how he rolls.

Ive kind of been locked in a cage for six months, Garza said Friday.

Garza is perhaps The Most Interesting Man at the Cubs Convention, because his health will be a major story line and from the beginning of the Theo Epstein administration what the front office did with him would say a lot about this rebuilding project.

Right now, Garza says he wont have any restrictions in spring training and expects to be part of the Opening Day rotation. In reality, whatever the Cubs decide to do with Garza is on hold as he recovers from the stress reaction in his right elbow.

Garza avoided arbitration on Thursday by agreeing to a 10.25 million deal that should take him into free agency. Hes curious to see what direction the organization takes, and surely understands that the team will have to get off to a good start or else it will be time to sell-off the short-term assets. Hes open to a future in Chicago, but knows he will have to take control of the situation first.

Ive said multiple times I love this city, Garza said. My family loves this city, but at the end of the day its: Do I fit? My ability to pitch, is it there? Its all going to come down to me pitching. Thats kind of it. All of the decision will be based off that.

The Garza question has been asked so many different ways across the past 14 months: Trade? Extend? Play it out? But its pointless now to look anywhere beyond his rehab schedule and wonder if the Cubs would be willing to offer something north of the four-year, 52 million deal Edwin Jackson got this winter.

Its not the right time, general manager Jed Hoyer said. If theres a time in the future where he feels really good, thats a more rational time to have that discussion. I dont think right now is the time to enter those discussions. Were really happy with everything weve heard, both from the doctors and from Matt and were optimistic that hes ready to go.

When healthy, Garza is the ultimate win-now player, a big-game pitcher whos done it before in the playoffs and the American League East. That makes him an awkward fit for a franchise thinking 2015 and beyond.

They werent messing around when they came in last year and said they were going to rebuild from the bottom up, Garza said. Last year when we did rookie dress-up I bought like 27 costumes. I knew there was going to be a lot of new faces. (But) its like a breath of fresh air. These guys want to play, theyre hungry. And I know the front office wants to win.

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

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USA Today

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

Joe Maddon needed Mike Montgomery to get through at least six innings given the circumstances presenting the Cubs' manager before Game 2 of Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Not only were the Cubs short a man in the bullpen (thanks to Brandon Morrow’s pants-related back injury), but Maddon had to use four relievers — including Pedro Strop for two innings — after Tyler Chatwood managed only five innings in Game 1 earlier in the afternoon. 

So when Montgomery — who had only thrown over 100 pitches once in the last two and a half seasons before Tuesday — saw his pitch count sit at 40 after two innings, and then 63 after three, he knew he needed to regroup to avoid creating a mess for the Cubs’ bullpen. 

What followed was a start that, statistically, wasn’t the most impressive of the five Montgomery’s made since re-joining the Cubs’ rotation earlier this year. But it was an important start in that the 28-year-old left-hander didn’t have his best stuff, yet didn’t give in to a good Dodgers lineup. And holding that bunch to one run over six innings was exactly what the Cubs needed in what turned out to be a 2-1 extra-inning win. 

“Especially when you don’t have have your best stuff, you always gotta — that’s when you really learn how to pitch,” Montgomery said. 

It’s also the kind of start that could be a major point in Montgomery’s favor when Maddon is presented with a decision to make on his starting rotation whenever Yu Darvish comes off the disabled list. Knowing that Montgomery can grind his way through six innings when his team needs it the most without his best stuff only can add to the confidence the Cubs have in him. 

Montgomery didn’t have his best stuff on Tuesday, issuing more walks (four) than he had in his previous four starts (three). He threw 48 pitches between the second and third innings, and only 25 of those pitches were strikes. Of the nine times the Dodgers reached base against Montgomery, six were the result of fastballs either leading to a walk or a hit. 

Even though the Dodgers were able to bother Montgomery a bit on his fastball, Maddon said that’s the pitch of his that’s impressed him the most over the last few weeks. 

“He never got rushed,” Maddon said. “In the past he would seem to get rushed when things weren’t going well, when he spot-started. Overall, fastball command is better — even though he was off a little bit tonight, the fastball command still exceeds what I’ve seen in the past couple of years on a more consistent basis. The changeup, really, good pitch. He got out of some jams but I think the fact that he knows where his fastball is going now is the difference-maker for him.”

Darvish will throw a simulated game on Wednesday after throwing two bullpen sessions last week. Maddon still doesn’t have a timetable for the $126 million right-hander’s return, and said he’s not entertaining what to do with his rotation until Darvish comes off the disabled list. But Maddon did mention Montgomery’s relative lack of an innings load — the most he’s thrown in a season in 130 2/3, which he did in 2017 — as a reason to perhaps not rush him into a permanent starting role the rest of the season. Going to a six-man rotation is a possibility, too, Maddon said. 

But the over-arching point is this: Montgomery will remain in the Cubs’ rotation as long as he keeps earning it. That can be the product of strong outings in which he has good stuff, or games like Tuesday in which he shows the Cubs the kind of resiliency most starters need to get through a full season. 

“I pitch well, good things happen,” Montgomery said. “I’ve always thought that. Opportunities, you just gotta make the most of them.”

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

For the second time in 1998, Sosa went back-to-back games with multiple home runs. After going yard twice on June 19 of that season, Slammin' Sammy again sent two balls into the bleachers on June 20.

He singlehandedly beat the Phillies that night, driving in 5 runs in a 9-4 Cubs victory.

But that wasn't the most impressive feat of the day from Sosa. His second homer was actually measured at a whopping 500 feet! It was the longest of the season, but not the longest of his career. On June 24, 2003, Sosa hit a homer at Wrigley measured at 511 feet.

The back-to-back big games raised Sosa's season OPS to 1.083 with a ridiculous .685 slugging percentage. He began June 1998 with a .608 slugging percentage.

Fun fact: Kerry Wood struck out 11 batters in 7.1 innings on June 20, 1998 to pick up his 7th big-league victory. As Wood marched to the National League Rookie of the Year that season, he finished with a 13-6 record and 233 strikeouts in only 166.2 innings for a career-high 12.6 K/9 rate.