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Matt Garza solid again, but Cubs’ bullpen implodes again

Cubs starter Matt Garzpitched 6 2/3 innings Wednesday gave up two runs eight hits. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Cubs starter Matt Garza pitched 6 2/3 innings Wednesday and gave up two runs and eight hits. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 29, 2012 9:30AM

During a game this spring against the Colorado Rockies between starts, Matt Garza was at the end of the dugout with a group of Cubs prospects who seemed to be doing more laughing than watching the game.

Garza looked at minor-league left-hander Jeff Beliveau and asked him if he knew anything about the lefty hitter who was batting for the Rockies.

‘‘No,’’ Beliveau said.

‘‘Then you better start paying attention and watch this guy,’’ Garza told him, ‘‘because when you get up here, this is the guy you’re going to be facing.’’

Beliveau got serious and started focusing more on the game.

On Wednesday night, Garza pitched two outs into the seventh inning against the Philadelphia Phillies and handed off a 2-2 game to the bullpen. Then he watched it implode on the way to a 9-2 loss.

While the Cubs have a major bullpen overhaul to go before they’ll be a serious threat to the better teams, Garza’s outing was another example of why the Cubs consider him a potential building block.

‘‘He’s one of the elite pitchers in the game,’’ manager Dale Sveum said. ‘‘He’s got an edge pretty much every time he steps on the mound.’’

For the second consecutive start since going 12 days without pitching because of the flu, Garza wasn’t as dominant as in some of his earlier starts. But he gave up only three runs in 112/3 combined innings in those starts, including two runs Wednesday.

‘‘Just getting my legs back,’’ he said. ‘‘Twelve days off, it wasn’t a vacation, man. I was fighting I don’t know what the heck it was.’’

He might not have the best delivery when he fields a bunt. But the kind of pitching that made him the best on the staff last year and has his ERA at 2.58 this year underscores the vision the Cubs’ front office has of a Garza-Jeff Samardzija top of the rotation for the next several years.

Negotiations on a possible contract extension for Garza don’t seem to be progressing particularly fast, despite national reports suggesting they’re going ‘‘well.’’ A new front office well known for thorough analysis and deliberate pace in its decisions has no reason to rush with Garza under club control for another year.

The market comparables suggest a value for Garza somewhere between the five-year, $65 million deal White Sox starter John Danks got over the winter and the five-year, $112 million deal the San Francisco Giants’ Matt Cain got last month.

A key part of Garza’s value might be found in moments like that day in spring training with Beliveau. As a first-year Cub last year, Garza was more reluctant to exert his presence on younger players, but he says he’s more comfortable showing his personality this year.

That includes passing on the same kick in the butt he got from veterans when he was a rookie.

‘‘When I came up [with the Minnesota Twins], I had [Brad] Radke and [Johan] Santana sit me down,’’ he said. ‘‘At the time, I thought it was kind of picking on me.’’

They eventually got through.

‘‘I’d sit down and watch hitters and break them down,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s to the point now where I just see a guy, and I’ve been around and seen a lot of baseball games, and I know what guys can and can’t do.’’

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