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Matt Garza’s future isn’t with Cubs

Chicago Cubs v AtlantBraves

Chicago Cubs v Atlanta Braves

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TONIGHT

CUBS AT DODGERS

The facts: 8:10, CSN, 720-AM.

The pitchers: Chris Volstad (0-7, 7.94 ERA) vs. Clayton Kershaw (8-6, 2.95).

Updated: September 5, 2012 6:53PM



LOS ANGELES — Two significant indicators of where the Cubs are headed and how fast played out as the Cubs opened their first road trip since the front office hit the restart button at the trade deadline.

With Jeff Samardzija officially assuming his top-of-the-rotation role against a Los Angeles Dodgers team with designs on a pennant, the Cubs pitcher with the best stuff —and best chance of returning a big haul in a trade — took another step toward returning to the mound for the first time in two weeks.

Matt Garza, whose elbow stiffness July 21 cost the Cubs a chance to take advantage of a big trade market last month, threw an abbreviated bullpen session Friday afternoon.

He said he had some stiffness that he anticipated after taking three days off for the birth of his daughter this week but plans to throw in the pen again Saturday and is still targeting a return to the rotation Tuesday in San Diego.

If he can’t go Tuesday, fans will get a real quick look at where the team’s organizational pitching depth is after trades for prospects that sent Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers and Paul Maholm to the Atlanta Braves in a 20-hour span.

Casey Coleman, viewed by the brass as a versatile reliever/swingman but not a rotation piece, could get the call Tuesday (which would require a back-dated DL move for Garza, who would be eligible for activation any time after that).

After Coleman, the options are down to somebody getting an early big-league debut — whether it’s Chris Rusin or Brooks Raley, both lefties.

The Cubs already have one rotation spot being taken by swingman Justin Germano, who barely two weeks ago was designated for assignment by the Boston Red Sox. And manager Dale Sveum said he’s committing another one for the rest of the season to Chris Volstad, who hasn’t won in more than a year.

And that next-generation centerpiece of the rotation? On this night, Samardzija (7-8) lost for the first time in nearly a month when he couldn’t pitch out of the sixth in a 6-1 loss to the Dodgers — the Cubs’ third loss in as many games since the trading deadline.

‘‘It was a step forward because of the players we got, but at the big-league level, it’s a step backward,’’ Sveum said of his pitching. ‘‘You don’t fill the spot of the best pitcher in baseball over the last month, Paul Maholm. And it’s very difficult to fill the spot of a guy that’s No. 1 in baseball in ERA this year [Dempster].’’

Garza, who three or four months ago was considered a potential building block for the new-era Cubs, is all but assured of getting traded over the winter after the Cubs drew encouragement from a strong market in July before he got hurt.

Garza could continue to attract a strong market in the offseason now that Cole Hamels already is off the upcoming free-agent market after signing an extension with the Philadelphia Phillies and Zack Greinke could be headed in the same direction with the Los Angeles Angels.

In addition to heavy interest from the Dodgers, one source said the Cubs had a potential deal brewing with the Rangers for Garza that might have returned a pitching-heavy package stronger than the 5-for-2 package the Cubs sent to the Tampa Bay Rays to acquire Garza before last season.

Garza, who was in the hospital with his wife when the non-waiver deadline passed Tuesday, said he didn’t notice the afternoon deadline passing.

‘‘I figured I wasn’t [going to be traded], just because of what the situation was and that I hadn’t thrown for a number of days,’’ he said. ‘‘If you were trading for me, you were kind of getting a blind pick. I’m happy to be around.’’

Team president Theo Epstein said he’s open to revisiting extension talks but acknowledged attempts early in the season went nowhere.

Garza said he’s also open to it. But both seem to know where this is headed, even as Garza says this is still where he wants to be.

‘‘Why not? There’s reasons why I’m still here,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t know what they are. Nobody does. Just play it by ear and see where it goes.’’



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