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updated: 2/19/2012 7:04 PM

Cubs' Garza plays hard, has fun

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  • Cubs starter Matt Garza gets in some throwing Sunday, the first day of workouts for pitchers and catchers in Mesa, Ariz.

       Cubs starter Matt Garza gets in some throwing Sunday, the first day of workouts for pitchers and catchers in Mesa, Ariz.
    Bruce Miles | Staff Photographer

 
 

MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs pitcher Matt Garza is, well, a bit different. And he knows it.

Now beginning his second spring with the Cubs, Garza was asked about his "comfort level" coming here from Tampa Bay last year.

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"My comfort level?" he said. "I think it was more everybody else's comfort level with me. I'm kind of 'one of those guys.' It was everybody getting comfortable to how I was.

"I think it happened pretty quick. Then they figured out what I was about. I love playing. I love being here. I love having fun.

"I think that's what we're going to do. We're going to play. We're going to love it. We're going to play hard and have fun."

Garza is "one of those guys" all right. When you ask him a question, you never know quite what you're going to get.

One of my first encounters with him came after a Cactus League outing last year. I got right into the questioning about how the game went.

"What?" he said, stopping the proceedings and looking hurt. "No hello? No 'how you doing?'"

So I backed up and said hello and asked him how he was doing.

Garza enters this spring as the de facto ace of the Cubs' staff. Pitching for a bad team last year, he managed a record of 10-10 with a 3.32 ERA. He left seven games with the lead and did not get a decision. One of his 2 complete games was a 1-0 loss to the White Sox.

Far from that kind of luck getting him down, Garza made himself an in-game presence even days he didn't pitch. He'd bounce around the dugout and shout encouragement during the games.

That's what he meant by his teammates needing to find a comfort level with him instead of the other way around.

"Just all the energy and just the way I am," he said. "I'm real upbeat, win or lose. I take it personal, but I do it on my own time. There's no reason anybody needs to see me (ticked) off.

"They got used to me. They knew it wasn't an act. I love being here. I love playing, and I love going out there and trying to win. That's what I do."

Garza was on the mound Sunday at Fitch Park, as Cubs pitchers and catchers began their first full day of formal spring-training workouts.

His new manager says he likes what he sees from Garza, both on the mound and off.

"Watching him over the years in Tampa Bay, to see him compete and in the playoffs and World Series to see what he did there, you knew there was something special with the stuff," Dale Sveum said.

"That inner cockiness he has and then watching him from the other side of the dugout, you see a guy who is involved on the other four days he doesn't pitch, too.

"He kind of reminds me a little bit of (former Yankee and Met) David Cone when David Cone didn't pitch the four days. He was the first guy to maybe yell at the other team and irritate the other team a little bit.

"But Matt has that wound-up personality that he can't sit still, and he wants to win even on the four days he's not pitching, which is a huge asset."

Whether he remains a huge asset for the Cubs remains to be seen. Garza's name was mentioned prominently in the off-season as a candidate to be traded.

When reporters converged upon him Sunday in the clubhouse, teammate Carlos Marmol shouted over: "You got traded, what?"

No, he didn't. Not yet, anyway.

"No, never was a doubt," he said. "A lot of it is usually hearsay."

Garza has been traded before, so he says he'd deal with it if it were to happen again. But all in all, he said he'd rather be in Chicago.

"I love playing baseball," he said. "The city of Chicago is one great city. I had a great time last year, and I'm hungry for more this year.

"They're going to make moves that are best for the organization, and that's what they should be doing. With (team president) Theo (Epstein), it's his job to look out for not only the present, but the future of the organization.

"I'd love to be a part of the future. That would be awesome. But if it's better for the club, then obviously they're going to make the best decision possible for the club."

bmiles@dailyherald.com

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