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Saturday, April 7, 2012
Matt Garza won't cry the bullpen blues

By Melissa Isaacson
ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- You can't help but notice that he has the resident madman's old locker space this season.

Matt Garza
Matt Garza's trade value is high, but it would behoove the Cubs to keep him in their rotation for the foreseeable future.

But Matt Garza is closer to genius than psycho.

He tried both on for size Saturday in the Cubs' second game of the 2012 season in a no-decision, 10-7 loss to the Washington Nationals before 40,102 sun-splashed, teeth-gnashing fans at Wrigley Field.

It was an inspirational performance if not quite inspired. More gutty than gem with five hits, including a home run, five strikeouts and a walk for two earned runs allowed in six innings.

It was the kind of game Garza lost last year, particularly in the second half, because of a lack of offensive support. It's the kind of game he lost Saturday, and may lose many more times this season, because of an unstable bullpen.

Of course, these weren't the two guys Cubs fans were supposed to be worried about, what with a relieving corps of largely unknowns. But after a one-two-three seventh by righty Rafael Dolis, Kerry Wood melted down once again with a lead (4-2) in the eighth, this time allowing three hits, including a solo shot by Danny Espinosa, and three earned runs -- all with two outs -- in two-thirds of an inning.

Carlos Marmol then came in and gave up two more hits and two walks for two runs to effectively put the game out of reach at 7-4 before being yanked for Shawn Camp, who gave up another hit before mercifully ending the inning.

It was the second straight no-decision for the Cubs after Wood and Marmol ruined Ryan Dempster's Opening Day gem -- Wood giving up three straight walks and walking in the tying run, all after two outs, and Marmol allowing two hits and the winning run.

Like Dempster, Garza was gracious.

"It's frustrating in that I set goals for myself and I reach them, so I want to at least pitch to the seventh every time out and take my team deep in the game and I didn't do it. I like to start what I finish," said Garza, who was angry over reporters grilling Wood after Thursday's opener and exchanged backslaps with Marmol as he headed out of the clubhouse on Saturday.

"Those two guys, they've done it before," Garza said. "They know that tomorrow is another day and they get another shot. I'm real confident that those guys will bounce back and get back on track."

Garza was at times commanding, other times klutzy and downright Zambrano-like in the fourth inning, storming into the dugout after giving up a two-run home run to Adam LaRoche off the right-field foul pole and stalking the length of the bench, shouting to himself before wisely taking it to the privacy of the tunnel.

"I was mad at myself," Garza said. "I missed my spot to LaRoche and the ball just came back. ... Other than that, I made one mistake, which is pretty good for the first time out."

It was also a little scary at times. In the first, Garza fell off the mound fielding a grounder by the leadoff man, his cleat catching his shoelace, he said. He tripped again in the second when he said he ran out of turf to dig into. Then in the fifth, the right-hander looked like he twisted his knee while fielding a sacrifice bunt by Craig Stammen.

You could almost feel the collective loss of breath by Cubs brass on that one as Garza's trade value flashed before their eyes.

"I don't know what the heck was going on," laughed Garza, who apparently was not hurt.

It's hard to get a definite read on whether Garza will stay or go. Both Cubs president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer have expressed their fondness for the pitcher, Epstein saying this past week that he has a better understanding for Garza's personality quirks and that there is "a method to his madness."

"He walks sort of a fine line between [being] in control and out of control, but that works for him emotionally," Epstein said.

Surely there will be a clamoring soon, if not already, for the Cubs to go fire sale with everyone from Garza to Marlon Byrd to Geovany Soto to Jeff Samardzija to Marmol. But it starts with Garza, who can command the most, both for the Cubs and for himself after San Francisco set the bar high for a somewhat-comparable pitcher in signing Matt Cain to a six-year extension worth a reported $127.5 million that makes him the highest-paid right-hander in history.

No one has confirmed that the Cubs and Garza are even talking, though it is assumed. And while it is too early to say a Garza trade is an unequivocal mistake, it sure feels like it.

While Garza is a little too quirky to be the team leader, he is certainly -- unlike former locker inhabitant Carlos Zambrano -- one of the leaders and a commanding presence, a guy you should want around to keep the blood flowing in a young clubhouse. More importantly, he gives the Cubs at least a little confidence, a chance to win every time out, and thus gives Epstein and Hoyer a better opportunity to see what he has around him in an atmosphere that is at least competitive and positive.

As subpar as they looked Thursday and Saturday, you really have to think Wood and Marmol will get considerably better.

"I can't wait [until] tomorrow," said Marmol, while Wood skipped the postgame interview session.

"I think they'll be fine," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "They have been in these situations before. It's not a panic situation. ... They know it's part of the gig."

So does Garza. And if he's willing to stick it out, the Cubs might want to consider doing the same.