Cubs

Mooney: Garza's always on the move

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Mooney: Garza's always on the move

Sunday, Feb. 27, 2011
Posted 8:05 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Matt Garza leaped over the first-base line as he walked to the mound at HoHoKam Park. He appears to be in constant motion.

You rarely see him killing time at his locker. He yells out to the other side of the clubhouse to ask a question. The other day he reluctantly stopped to do a quick interview with a national columnist right there in the middle of the room, no need to find a more quiet space.

Landing Garza became close to an obsession for Jim Hendry. The Cubs general manager spoke with Andrew Friedman, his counterpart in Tampa Bay, basically every day except Christmas and New Years for a month while trying to close the deal.

Hendry sat in the first row watching on a 49-degree Sunday afternoon. Garza didnt throw a breaking ball during his two innings in this Cactus League opener.

Coco Crisp drove one pitch into the right-field bullpen for a grand slam. Matt Carson crushed another off the green batters eye, 410 feet out in center. It ended in a 15-7 loss to the Oakland As in front of 6,892 fans.

The ball felt good coming out of my hand, Garza said. I felt like I was very explosive toward home plate. Everything that needs to be there is there. Location will come with time and more innings. Im not disappointed. Im pretty upbeat about it.

Garza had already moved on from his final line: five runs on five hits in two innings. Its hard to sweat those numbers when youve been an ALCS MVP.

Mike Quade didnt watch Garza throw a single pitch in bullpen sessions or batting practice during the two weeks the Cubs trained at Fitch Park. The manager had read all the reports on Garza, but mostly wanted to see how he carried himself.

Hes almost more wired than I am, Quade said. Hes going a mile a minute.

You combine talent with energy with what looks like really good work ethic does it get any better than that?

Garza paused long enough Sunday morning to watch episodes of The Simpsons and The Office on an iPad-type device. Headphones plugged into his ears, he leaned back in his chair with his legs on a water fountain.

Hes always laughing, always smiling, said first baseman Carlos Pena, a teammate in Tampa Bay. (But) when he gets on the mound, (he) wants to beat the other team so bad and dominate. Its just cool to see how he can turn it on like that. You think hes just unapproachable, the next thing you know hes just the friendliest guy.

But this doesnt seem like someone who sits still for long. A Twins first-round pick made it to the majors by his second professional season, rising from Class-A Fort Myers to Double-A New Britain to Triple-A Rochester to Minnesota in 2006. Hes still only 27 and has already been traded twice.

I was watching him (the other day) in the bullpen at 8:15 in the morning and he was just as intense there as he would be at 7 at night, catcher Koyie Hill said. A lot of that is just adrenaline, which is good. Coming to a new place, hes excited. Hopefully it doesnt wear off. I dont think it will. I dont see it happening.

Garza has said that hes not playing to the trade, which cost the Cubs some of the best prospects in their system. But it wasnt a complete win-now move, because Garza is under team control through 2013. So in time this should be his manager, his team, his league.

On Sunday Garza even got the first hit he could remember. Someone supposedly threw the ball into the Cubs dugout. He was laughing about that. The pitching numbers didnt matter.

It was a good jumping-off point, Garza said.

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

Cubs Talk Podcast: Cubs split Crosstown and Adbert Alzolay is called up

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Cubs split Crosstown and Adbert Alzolay is called up

Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki check in from Wrigley Field after the Cubs split the first leg of the Crosstown Classic with the White Sox.

Kelly and Tony discuss the breaking news of top pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay's promotion to the big leagues and what his role could be with the Cubs (2:15), and assess where the Cubs stand as they continue their long homestand, including the recent offensive downturn and Yu Darvish taking a step forward (7:30).

Cubs Talk Podcast

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Joe Maddon perplexed by the way baseballs are jumping this year: 'It's extraterrestrial'

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USA TODAY

Joe Maddon perplexed by the way baseballs are jumping this year: 'It's extraterrestrial'

On a mid-June night that felt more like the first week of April, the Cubs and White Sox combined for 2,029 feet of homers. 

As Leury Garcia hit Jon Lester's first pitch of the game 429 feet Wednesday evening, the reported temperature was in the mid 50s with winds blowing in from left field at 7 mph. That's not as chilly or windy as some of the games the Cubs have played this season, but it's still certainly not ideal hitting conditions at Wrigley Field.

Yet five home runs peppered the left and center field bleachers in the Cubs' 7-3 victory and prompted veteran manager Joe Maddon to bemuse about the way the ball is jumping around baseball today.

"Difficult conditions, but again — wind blowing in at a gale, it seemed, balls flying out easily," Maddon said after the game. "The home run that [James] McCann hit, my god, that just took off. You could actually see it from the field. You watch the flags [blowing in], it gets there, then all of a sudden it took off like a UFO. It stood still, then it took off. The first home run of the game, the first pitch, I mean my god, that ball went far. 

"I don't know what I'm witnessing. The way the ball is coming off the bat right now, it's extraterrestrial. It's like an ET kind of a thing going on out there. It's crazy. This is my fifth year here and I know what I've seen. Whenever the wind is blowing in like that, you don't see that. You don't see that."

Lester worked around those two homers from Garcia and McCann to pick up his 6th win, thanks in large part to the power supplied from his own teammates. Catcher Willson Contreras mashed his 14th and 15th homers of the season (after hitting only 10 all of last year) and David Bote smashed his 9th. 

Overall this season, the Cubs have been on an insane home run barrage, on pace to blow past the franchise mark for longballs in a year. Contreras reaching the 15-homer plateau puts five Cubs in that club this season. No other MLB team has more than three players who have reached that mark.

"I just know the ball's leaving," Maddon said. "I don't know if it's another year of maturity, but it's not just us. It's industry-wide. So it's hard to just say that we're the outlier with all this going on. I still want to see the better approach with runners in scoring position." 

Six weeks ago, Lester brought up the juiced baseball discussion after a start against the Marlins, saying he and other pitchers would like to know if MLB is juicing the baseballs. The league hasn't openly stated anything is different with the baseballs, though home runs are up at an astronomical rate across the board — in both the majors and Triple-A. And we haven't even gotten into the summer weather yet, when the ball really starts flying on warm evenings.

When asked for his thoughts on the baseballs Wednesday night, Lester shrugged it off.

"No comment," he said. "We can sit here and talk until we're blue in the face about the ball. It is what it is. Every pitcher in the big leagues has to pitch with it. You can comment on it all you want, but it just sounds like an excuse. I don't make excuses. Gotta make better pitches."