Starting pitcher Matt Garza of the Chicago Cubs bends down to pick up a ball during the fourth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
I have to get this out of the way before I get to the good stuff.
Matt Garza really, truly is the worst-fielding pitcher I have ever seen.
He cost himself a chance at a complete-game shutout -- which would have been the first by a Cub at Wrigley Field since Ryan Dempster threw a five-hit shutout against the Pirates on September 29, 2009 -- by throwing what should have been a game-ending comebacker into the seats behind first base. Dale Sveum could laugh about it after the game:
#Cubs Sveum on Garza's errant throw in 9th: "We might have witnessed greatest worst throw of all time"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) April 12, 2012
Courtesy of my colleague Jeff Sullivan at Baseball Nation, have another look at Garza's throw:
But Sveum couldn't really let Garza stay in after that, after 119 pitches (83 strikes -- excellent ratio), so he lifted him for Shawn Camp. Camp got pinch-hitter George Kottaras to ground to Starlin Castro and the Cubs had an 8-0 win over the Brewers, avoiding what would have been their first-ever four-game sweep at the hands of the visitors from up I-94.
Now, the good stuff: Garza was outstanding on Thursday. He gave up just three singles and a pair of walks, struck out nine, and at one point set down 12 consecutive Brewers. It was his second very good start of this young season.
The Cubs offense unloaded against Zack Greinke in the third inning; seven hits were pounded out and six runs scored. Two more runs scored in the fourth before Ron Roenicke had mercy on Greinke and took him out. That means that in two starts at Wrigley, Greinke has thrown nine innings and given up 17 hits and 14 earned runs.
I don't want to get anyone's hopes or expectations up, least of all mine. But of the seven games played in this homestand, five of them were good-to-outstanding outings by the starting pitcher, one was okay (Chris Volstad) and only one (Paul Maholm) was bad. With any sort of decent bullpen work, the Cubs could be 4-3 or 5-2 instead of 2-5. Also, with this offensive explosion, the team has scored 27 runs and allowed 28, which would imply a record of 3-4 or possibly 4-3.
It doesn't get any easier with a trip to St. Louis and Miami coming up. But keep up this good starting pitching, and at least the team will stay in games.
Which brings us to the question: what to do with Steve Clevenger? So far, the guy has been a hitting machine, going 6-for-9 with three doubles, and the Cubs have won both the games he started. This could be a good problem to have; Geovany Soto is still a capable major league catcher, and at $4.3 million for this year's contract, would surely be affordable to any team that wanted to trade for him. Clevenger could slip into the starting role, and Welington Castillo (or even Blake Lalli) could be called up to be a backup.
In any case, Sveum has to get Clevenger at least the two starts a week he's mentioned he wants to give him -- maybe more.
Today, on a warmer-than-yesterday-but-still-chilly Thursday, about 20,000 of the announced 36,311 showed up at Wrigley Field for a game that could have ended about three minutes earlier than it did, if Matt Garza could field his position. Hopefully, the coaching staff will do some more work with him on that. Because really, that was about the worst throw I've ever seen a pitcher make.