Already trying to recover from an elbow injury that cost him half of the 2012 season, Chicago Cubs right-hander Matt Garza is also now trying to overcome a mild lat strain that he suffered during the team’s first full squad workouts at the start of Spring Training. Garza took a step in the right direction on Thursday, throwing off of flat ground for the first time for about 15 minutes, but it would seem highly unlikely that he’ll be ready to pitch by Opening Day. The team and pitcher have “braced for the possibility of opening the season on the disabled list”, according to Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com.
Garza’s tenure in Chicago hasn’t gone exactly as planned. He’s made 49 starts for the Cubs over the past two seasons, posting a 15-17 mark with a 3.52 ERA, 1.230 WHIP, 2.8 BB/9, and 8.7 K/9. When healthy he’s been putting up some of the best peripheral numbers of his career. This injury to his right elbow last season is cause for concern, however, and the Cubs are being smart by being cautious with Garza. He’ll reach free agency after the season and there has already been speculation that the team could be open to trading him this summer. If Garza reinjures himself it won’t help either side in the long run.
Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson will be asked to step up and lead the team’s pitching staff in Garza’s absense. Scott Feldman, Travis Wood, and Carlos Villanueva will then follow. Chicago’s rotation when the season begins appears to have some weaknesses at the back end, but it’s worth noting that Garza is not the team’s only option that may not be ready by Opening Day. Scott Baker and Arodys Vizcaino are both rehabbing from Tommy John Surgery and could be ready by late April. Vizcaino will presumably make a few starts in the minor leagues before he’s called up, but Baker could be an option sooner.
Chicago’s chances at competing this season are already tough to predict considering the uphill battle they’ll face in their own division, but missing Garza for a significant stretch of time could prove further detrimental. Should the team find themselves out of contention by midseason, a healthy Garza could be one of their more valuable trade chips as they continue to rebuild.