Strong Cubs rotation set to get stronger

CHICAGO – The Chicago Cubs got some good news prior to Saturday’s game, when it was announced that pitcher Matt Garza would return to the rotation on Tuesday and make his first start since July.

After hearing that news, Garza’s teammate, Scott Feldman, showed him the standard the Cubs staff has set this season by once again delivering a dominating performance. This time it was the Mets who Feldman stymied, as he tossed 6 2/3 innings of shutout ball, scattering seven hits, while striking out six and walking only one on the day.

“It’s hard to imagine how good he’s been these last five starts,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of Feldman. “The last four have been unbelievable. The low stress and the length he’s given, it doesn’t seem like a whole lot of opportunity for the other team to score, other than solo homers. Yeah, it’s been impressive.”

After struggling in his first three starts, Feldman has been nearly untouchable in his last five trips to the mound. He’s posted a 1.28 ERA, striking out 29 and walking only eight in his 35 1/3 innings pitched during that span.

Combine Feldman with Travis Wood and Jeff Samardzija, who have looked strong early on, and with Edwin Jackson, who is starting to turn things around of late, and Garza’s imminent return could give the Cubs a very impressive rotation.

“If these guys keep throwing the ball the way they have the first six weeks and with Garza, if he comes back,” Sveum said. “You don’t expect a whole lot right away (from Garza). But once he gets settled in, it’s got a chance to be pretty nice, if not one of the top rotations in the league right now.”

Feldman’s outing was the Cubs’ 26th quality start of the season -- and Feldman’s fifth consecutive -- which ties them for third most in the NL. Cubs pitchers have a 1.93 ERA in those 26 starts.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Feldman has been doing his best work with his curveball. On Saturday, he retired seven batters on his curve and only one batter reached on it -- Ruben Tejada on a Starlin Castro error.

His curve is one of the primary reasons for Feldman’s turnaround on the season. In his first three starts he retired eight batters, allowed seven hits and walks combined and got five strikeouts on his curveball. In his last five starts, it’s been a complete 180, as he’s retired 27 batters, allowed only four hits and walks combined while striking out 10 with the curve.

“I feel healthy, my arm feels good,” Feldman said. “Mechanically everything feels a lot better than it did in spring training. Just keep working on that stuff and try and keep it that way for the rest of the season here.”

Anthony Rizzo, who had two hits on the day, including his 10th home run of the season, definitely appreciates the accomplishments of his team’s starters.

“It’s awesome, it’s a good feeling,” Rizzo said. “We got Garza coming back and hopefully he just fits right in and gels like the rest of the staff. We know if we go and score some runs, we’re going to be in the game and have a chance to win.”

Rizzo hasn’t struck out in 40 consecutive plate appearances, and even more impressive may be his performance against lefties this season. Rizzo posted a .208/.243/.356 line with four home runs against southpaws in 2012. His home run off reliever Robert Carson was his fourth off a lefty on the season, equaling his 2012 total and upping his line to an impressive 327/.393/.574 on the year versus southpaws.

“Just seeing them better,” Rizzo said of the difference between this year and last against lefties. “It was more of a mental thing. People struggle lefty-on-lefty, but they still gotta throw it over the plate. It’s just from a different arm slot, so you just gotta adjust your eyes a little bit.”