Updated: June 27, 2013 11:16PM
MILWAUKEE — Matt Garza says he’ll never forget the first time he heard his name in a trade rumor.
He was a rookie with the Twins, and the rumor had him going to Washington for All-Star outfielder Alfonso Soriano.
“I remember to this day,” he said, “I was like, ‘All right, 40-40 guy, yeah!’ Now it’s just, ‘Whatever.’ I just keep plugging away.”
The Cubs’ best pitcher is doing more than that right now, maybe even enough to start building his trade value up to near last year’s lofty levels — before an elbow injury sidelined him a week before the July 31 trade deadline.
With scouts from more than a dozen teams watching Thursday’s start — an increase over Wednesday’s group watching Scott Feldman — Garza turned in his third consecutive powerful start to beat the Milwaukee Brewers 7-2 at Miller Park.
Garza (3-1, 3.83 ERA) struck out 10 and walked one to improve to 2-0 with an ERA of 0.78 in his last three starts, with 23 strikeouts in 23 innings.
Eight starts into the season, he’s convincing scouts his elbow injury is long behind him — not to mention the lat strain that had him on the disabled list until May 21.
“I feel pretty good mechanically, physically, mentally,” Garza said.
His 95-mph fastball, biting slider and track record for big performances in big games have Garza among the top two or three pitchers in this year’s trade market right behind top guy Cliff Lee of Philadelphia — assuming the Phillies make him available.
And Feldman — who outshined Brewers trade chip Yovani Gallardo on Wednesday — ranks right behind Garza as a valuable commodity on the market as the Cubs try to maximize the value of their short-term roster guys to fish for big-game prospects over the next four weeks.
“Obviously, there are a lot of calls this time of year,” team president Theo Epstein said before the team headed to Seattle on Thursday night. “And we have a number of guys performing really well, including some guys who are under contract or under control for years to come.
“It’s not like we’re rushing out to trade those guys. But we’ll see. We owe it to the organization to explore it and see if there’s something that makes us a lot better going forward.”
There aren’t a lot of trades that will make them much worse — back-to-back series wins against Houston and Milwaukee notwithstanding.
Bottom line: Consider everybody but Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Jeff Samardzija and probably Travis Wood open for discussion.
With more than a month before the deadline, reports from Atlanta suggest the Braves have their eye on 12-for-12 closer Kevin Gregg, and West Coast teams including San Diego and San Francisco are said to have interest in Feldman.
And shut-down lefty James Russell could be a sleeper in the hunt for high return, with multiple scouts raving about his ability and makeup during the Milwaukee series.
But if Garza, who once was considered a potential building block before extension talks went nowhere, keeps this kind of performance going, nobody’s going to give the Cubs a better chance at nabbing an impact prospect than the big right-hander.
“I’m not too worried about it,” he said of the trade talk he knows is coming, adding he has no plans to talk to anyone in the front office about it.
“My job is to get ready every five days and perform,” he said. “And it’s not for them. It’s for me. And my 24 guys in here. Those rumors are rumors. I’ve been a part of them my entire career, so it’s nothing new.”