The game events on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh can be addressed with one question. Do you want the good news first or the bad news? The positive was the dominant return of Matt Garza. After 10 months off from pitching at the Major League level, the Cubs starter let it out against the Pirates. Garza comfortably hit 92-94 mph with his fastball and had the Bucs hitters coming up empty on his slider all night. In fact, there was one stretch where the former Cubs ace struck out four hitters in a row, including the side in the bottom of the second. He had held the Pirates hitless through four innings with the help of some solid defense behind him. Garza’s effort may have had some Cub fans flashing back to when Carlos Zambrano returned from the disabled list in September 2008 to toss a no hitter in Milwaukee against the Astros.
With the stated pitch count of 85-90 prior to the game, many began to wonder if Garza would be pulled to honor the limit even if he had a no no going. Indications were that the Cubs would be strict about the pitch count, but the question would go left unanswered after the Cubs righty allowed a bloop single in the fifth. The single represented his 76th pitch thrown on the night and Garza would go on to finish the fifth to be in line for the win. The Cubs starter finished with 82 pitches, elevated by the five strikeouts and the three walks. The free pass total can be a bit deceiving, as none really came as a sign of a bout with wildness. All three came on 3-2 counts with Garza attempting to give the batter a pitcher’s pitch to swing at.
The gem on the mound was not the only highlight of Garza’s return. Number 22 wasted no time competing with his fellow rotation mates at the plate as well. After witnessing homers by Travis Wood and Jeff Samardzija the past week, not to mention the RBI double by Scott Feldman, Garza joined in on the fun with a two out double in the second that scored two and bumped the lead up to 3-0. The extra base knock pretty much overshadowed a key RBI single by Darwin Barney ahead of him to keep the inning rolling. It should also be noted that Barney finished the night 4 for 4, including a triple in the top of the ninth.
The bad news? The bullpen, which is no surprise to those of you who have kept up with the Cubs all season. Shawn Camp continues to pitch like the guy who was cut by the Blue Jays two off seasons ago. More ranting on him to come in a separate post. Camp is the one that served up a grand slam to pinch hitter Travis Snider to cap off a five run sixth for the home team. That one bad inning was all the NL Central contending Pirates needed to win the game, with off season rumored free agent target Jason Grilli picking up his 18th save in 18 tries to deny the Cubs a comeback.
Regardless, the take away from the game is that Garza was amazingly sharp for a pitcher that has been out of action for so long, rehab starts or not. Assuming the goateed power arm does not experience any post appearance soreness over the next couple of days, the already top tier of the league rotation only looks to get even better. With that the question will turn from Garza’s durability to that of whether the Cubs should trade or extend the right handed pitcher.