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Cubs still waiting for those aces after loss to Brewers

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

MILWAUKEE — Cubs manager Mike Quade made the point emphatically and immediately in spring training when it came to where success needed to start with this team: Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza, a veteran group of starters he banded together as his trio of aces.

“For those three to set the tone for the rest of the rotation is huge,’’ he said then.

The Cubs are only eight games into the season and hanging in at .500, but so far the tone-setting largely has been missing from the threesome whose collective performance has become even more critical for a team that lost its two other starters to injuries in the last week.

In fact, on Saturday night in Milwaukee, the tone took on the jarring sound of bats cracking hanging offspeed pitches, as Garza gave up eight more hits — five to Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun — in a 6-0 loss to the Brewers. Brewers starter Chris Narveson, meanwhile, limited the Cubs to six hits and struck out nine in seven innings.

It was the first game the Cubs have played in the young season that hasn’t presented a ninth-inning save situation.

“I’m a fastball guy,’’ said Garza, a 15-game winner last season for the Tampa Bay Rays. “Six of their eight hits were on offspeed pitches, and that’s uncalled for. That’s not my style, and that’s not who I am. And that’s something that’s going to change.

“I haven’t had bad outings, but I don’t give up 20 hits in two games. That’s not me.’’

Whether he needs to throw more fastballs — he was especially upset with himself about offspeed pitches on two-strike counts that Fielder turned into doubles — seems to be at least a point of potential debate.

“As his soft game goes, so goes how he’s going to do,’’ Quade said. “He got into a much better pattern after the early runs.’’

“They didn’t beat me with my power game,’’ Garza (0-1) reiterated. “They beat me with the soft stuff. The first inning, the first two hits were fastballs, and that was it. The rest of the time, it was the offspeed stuff. That’s where I got beat.’’

Garza was visibly upset at times during the game and in particular after intentionally walking Rickie Weeks, his final batter, with two outs in the sixth.

“Oh, yeah,’’ he said. “I don’t like giving anybody a free base. He better earn it. That’s why I’ve only walked two guys [unintentionally] this year. . . . It’s one of those things where you give a guy like that a free pass, it just burns. But it’s part of the game, and you’ve got to learn how to do it. Other than that, it is what it is.’’

And when it comes to the Big Three of this pitching staff, it isn’t much — at least not yet.

None of the three has an ERA under 5.25. Only two of their six combined starts have been quality starts, with only one resulting in a victory. And they’re a combined 1-3 with a 5.87 ERA and 63 baserunners allowed in 381/3 innings.

“I don’t think you judge a group of pitchers that we’re counting on by two starts,’’ Quade said. “Demp will be better, I’m convinced of that; Garza will get settled, and he’ll be better; I think Z’s been OK.

“And they all have good history. We’re not talking about three young kids. And guess what? If they don’t pitch well, we’re going to struggle, and they know that.’’

Not that anyone expects a season face plant from any of them, much less all three. But during a bumpy start to the season, their collective stutter-step start has stood out.

“We are, I believe, eight games into the season; there are 154 more,’’ Garza said. “I highly doubt any of us are pressing right now. There’s no pressing, there’s no more added stress or pressure. . . .

“Me, Z and Demp, we’re going to go out there and do our jobs. Tonight, I didn’t do my job.’’

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