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David Brown

Matt Garza better at the plate than on the mound in Cubs debut

David Brown
Big League Stew

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MESA, Ariz. — Hitting is definitely ahead of pitching right now for new Chicago Cubs righty Matt Garza(notes).

Garza made up for a blah performance on the mound Sunday afternoon by getting his first base hit as a professional ballplayer in his Cactus League debut.

Garza found it hard to contain his joy after hitting a single down the first-base line against left-hander Josh Outman(notes) to lead off the bottom of the fourth inning against the Oakland Athletics.

"It wasn't pretty, but it was a hit," teammate Carlos Peña said. "So we'll take it. He was so pumped up, it was funny."

Garza got to the bag and the A's Daric Barton(notes) made a request.

"When I got to first," Garza said, "Barton's at first and he's like, ‘Don't smile.' I'm like, ‘Dude, it's my first hit.'

"He's like, ‘Just turn around and smile, then.' "

So he did.

Garza also ran the bases well, to the satisfaction of manager Mike Quade. The A's won 15-7 at Hohokam Stadium.

Garza's first Cubs pitching performance was forgettable, at least to observe. After Carlos Zambrano(notes) pitched two shutout innings, Garza struggled — allowing five runs and five hits, including a grand slam by Coco Crisp(notes) — over two frames.

Not that he sounded particularly worried about it.

"It's spring," Garza said. "I wasn't throwing any breaking balls today. It was just mainly fastball and change-up. My location was off, but like I said, it's spring. At least the ball felt good coming out of my hand. It felt like I was very explosive toward home plate. Everything that needs to be there, is there.

"Location will come with time and more innings. I'm not disappointed, I'm pretty upbeat about it. I'm pumped that the fastball came out of my hand the way it did."

Peña, a teammate of Garza's in recent seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays, was curious about how Garza felt in his Cubs debut.

"The first question I asked him at the end of the game was, ‘How do you feel?' He said, ‘I feel good.' That was the end of it," said Peña, who went 0-for-2 with a walk and a run scored in his own Cubs debut.

"I think we are a little bit more mature than allowing the result to take over what we're trying to do," Peña said. "I told him, ‘Did you accomplish what you wanted to do?' And he said, ‘I felt good. And, on top of that, I got a base hit.' It was great to see him smile after that and enjoy himself. I'm glad he got that knock out of the way.

Garza, who spent the first five seasons of his career in the American League with the Twins and Rays, has gone 0-for-11 with nine strikeouts and a walk in interleague play. He's also 0 for 2 in the playoffs, and he said he never had gotten a hit in spring training.

Until now.

"He was the only pitcher that didn't get a hit on our staff," Penã said. "They were all over him."

Peña was even more impressed that Garza knew what to do once he reached base.

"He was concerned about how he ran the bases afterwards," Peña said. "He was asking me, ‘Did I do that right?' I'm like, ‘Dude, that's just perfect.' "

Quade considered pinch running for Garza, but has been mindful of him switching leagues.

"I could pinch hit for him and be careful, but he's got to learn," Quade said. "They've been through two weeks of serious conditioning. You've got to find out some time and I think now's the time."

Peña said Garza has a great attitude for a baseball clubhouse.

"He's very active," Peña said. "He's very intense with everything he does, I think you can see it on the mound. He's a fun-loving guy, always having a good time. Always laughing, always smiling. But when he gets on the mound, he just wants to beat the other team so bad and dominate.

"It's just cool to see how he can turn it on like that. You think he's unapproachable and the next thing you know, he's just the friendliest guy on the ballclub."

Follow Dave throughout spring training on Twitter — @AnswerDave — and check out the Stew on Facebook for more coverage.

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