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Cubs’ Matt Garza’s pitching not a problem; his defense must improve

Cubs starting pitcher Matt Garzworks first inning as he Chicago Cubs host PhiladelphiPhillies  Tuesday July 19 2011 Wrigley Field.

Cubs starting pitcher Matt Garza works in the first inning as he Chicago Cubs host the Philadelphia Phillies Tuesday July 19, 2011 at Wrigley Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 20, 2011 2:21AM

SAN FRANCISCO — How good can Cubs right-hander Matt Garza get by next season?

The answer might have a disproportionate bearing on the Cubs’ ability to compete in 2012. And it might start with what happens after he lets go of the ball.

Garza leads major-league pitchers with seven errors. Consequently, he leads the National League with 14 unearned runs allowed. That ranks second to the Minnesota Twins’ Nick Blackburn (17) in the majors.

‘‘We talked a few weeks ago about that becoming a huge part of where he goes,’’ Cubs manager Mike Quade, who sat down with Garza a few days ago about that and other topics, said last weekend. ‘‘We know about his stuff. And we’ve seen him pitch some unbelievable ballgames. But being able to improve in that area [is big].’’

By contrast, Garza’s counterpart Tuesday against the San Francisco Giants, right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, has committed no errors and is enjoying a career season. Cy Young contenders Roy Halladay, Clayton Kershaw and Ian Kennedy also are errorless this season.

Using fielding as another weapon on the mound is nothing new, as
evidenced by 18-time Gold Glove winner Greg Maddux (355 career victories) and 16-time Gold Glove winner Jim Kaat (283).

The power-pitching Garza has some of the best stuff in the NL,
including a two good breaking balls.

‘‘You watch his body language and how he’s always calming himself if he makes a pitch that’s up in the zone, telling himself to settle down, settle down,’’ Quade said. ‘‘Well, somehow he’s going to have to incorporate that in game action with his fielding.’’

Most of Garza’s errors have come on rushed, wild throws, which have led some to suggest his amped personality gets in the way when the ball gets to him.

But Garza disagreed.

‘‘It’s an aberration,’’ he said.

In fact, Garza never had committed more than two errors in a season and had committed only six in his career before he was traded from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Cubs last offseason.

Is it something about Wrigley Field? The bigger crowds? Trying to do too much in a season that has gone so wrong?

Even some of the throws he makes successfully nearly burn holes in the first baseman’s glove because of the smoke he puts on them.

‘‘I don’t know what it is; it just happens,’’ said Garza, who has a
rotation-best 3.68 ERA but only a 6-10 record to show for it. ‘‘The last few games, I’ve made my throws. You just get so excited or you just know it’s your play, so you’re like, ‘Yeah!’ And then, ‘Crap.’

‘‘It is what it is. You just fix it and get it done.’’

Quade also sees a need for
improved bunting from Garza, but he figures that will come with more experience in the NL.

As for his defense, Garza spends extra time every week with the rest of the pitchers working on fielding practice.

‘‘You just keep hoping he’ll get more comfortable doing that,’’ Quade said. ‘‘He’s such a high-strung, high-energy
guy that it’s a hell of a challenge. Something as simple as picking up a ball and throwing a ball to [Carlos Pena] at 85 mph instead of 105 mph is tough for him. And he knows it.’’

Said Garza: ‘‘It’s not like I can’t do it; I’ve done it before. It’s more of just not letting my emotions get out of control, just kind of keeping them mellow.

‘‘Oh, well, I can’t do anything about it [talking about it]. When I’m out there, then I can do something.’’

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