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Theo Epstein says season won’t dictate Matt Garza’s future

Steve Clevenger Cubs connects for double third inning Wrigley Field Thursday April 12 2012 Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

Steve Clevenger of the Cubs connects for a double in the third inning at Wrigley Field Thursday, April 12, 2012, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Despite five losses in their first seven games, the Cubs have been able to count on their starting rotation, especially the first three spots:


Ryan Dempster 2 0-1 141/3 3 15  1.88

Matt Garza 2 1-0 142/3 2 14 1.23

Jeff Samardzija* 1 1-0 82/3 1 8 1.04

TOTALS 5 2-1 372/3 7 32 1.67

*-Starts Friday at St. Louis.

Updated: May 14, 2012 8:22AM

Games like this provide insight into the blueprint the Cubs’ regime is using for its redesign.

Matt Garza allowed three hits and struck out nine as the Cubs beat the Milwaukee Brewers 8-0 to avoid a four-game sweep. Garza missed a complete game only because he rocket-launched a throw to first on a play that otherwise would have ended the game. He was pulled because he had thrown 119 pitches.

The performance salvaged a 2-5 homestand to start a season of great change. But for anybody who believes the fortunes and inevitable misfortunes in the first season under Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer will have any bearing on the Cubs’ intentions with Garza, Epstein offered a one-word answer: ‘‘No.’’

It’s unclear how far the Cubs and Garza, 28, have progressed in talks on a multiyear contract. But Garza’s agent, Nez Balelo, was scheduled to be in town during the home­stand. Garza will make $9.5 million this season and is arbitration-eligible for one more year.

What’s very clear is that teams build rotations around pitchers like him, and in the National League Central, there’s a better chance to win sooner than later with pitchers like him.

‘‘Anytime you’re contemplating significant personnel moves, you have to look at the organization as a whole and where you’re going,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘One week’s worth of performance, let alone one season’s worth, doesn’t necessarily impact that significantly.

‘‘Some issues are best examined up close, from 10 feet away, and some are best examined from 10,000 feet away. That’s probably one that falls in the latter. It’s sort of a big-picture issue.’’

A big picture that was on display Thursday as Garza held the hard-hitting NL Central champs to three singles.

Part of that big picture also might be on display Friday, when reinvented Jeff Samardzija, who will take on the World Series-champion St. Louis Cardinals opposite their ace, Adam Wainwright.

‘‘He’s got the raw components of a top-of-the-rotation-type starter,’’ Epstein said of Samardzija, who was dominant for most of spring training, then threw 82/3 innings Sunday in the Cubs’ other victory. ‘‘Now, there’s a lot that has to go on, too, before that can actually occur. The consistency that you have to develop is the art of it. But I wouldn’t put anything past him because he’s a very dedicated guy.

‘‘One start’s one start. He’s got to continue to progress in that role. But it’s very encouraging.’’

If encouraging grows into frontline-reliable, and if a deal gets done with Garza, the Cubs might have the makings of a quicker turnaround than some have anticipated.

It’s a formula similar to the one used by the Minnesota Twins when they re-signed Brad Radke more than a decade ago. They built around him, discovered Johan Santana along the way and developed enough bullpen arms to contend.

The Twins eventually added Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau to a second generation of position players to extend their competitive window started by Radke. The Cubs have Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo poised to join the mix potentially faster than the Twins’ onetime prospects.

Also similar is that the Twins weren’t contending with the constantly reloading, overspending New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

‘‘I think we definitely have the guys here to do what we want to do,’’ said Samardzija, who added that the chemistry and veteran mix ‘‘is going to just help [us achieve] that growth quicker.

‘‘Obviously, we want to turn this thing around as fast as possible. That’s the whole goal.’’

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