This Cubs Matt Garza news and notes column is from TSB new contributor Jeremy Harris.
In a gutsy performance, which could be his last as a Cub, starter Matt Garza tossed 6 2/3 innings, yielding ten hits and two walks, while striking out four. While in most of his recent performances he was working with few runners on base, tonight he pitched out of several jams. So while he was not at his sharpest before the plethora of scouts watching the game, he probably buoyed his stock by demonstrating his ability to extricate himself from trouble with minimal damage.
Garza is scheduled to pitch again on July 22 and July 27, if not traded sooner. The Cubs are faced with the quandary of any organization trying to trade a player, but particularly a pitcher who has been on the disabled list twice in the last calendar year. Last season, as the Cubs were fielding offers to trade Garza, he suffered an injury on July 21 that ultimately ended his season. Thus, the Cubs are probably balancing the hope of driving up Garza’s trade value as much as possible prior to the July 31 trade deadline with the fear or re-injury before the trade deadline.
In addition to playing errorless and generally crisp defense since June 23, when he committed two errors, his 13th and 14th, in a 14-6 Cubs win against the Houston Astros, Castro appears to be emancipating himself from a two-month slump. He was originally assessed an error in an 8-7 loss to the Athletics on July 2, but that error appears to have been stricken, meaning that Castro has gone almost three weeks without committing an error and has raised his fielding percentage to within an eyelash of his career high of .964 set last season. His offense in July has been even more impressive. After last night’s two-hit game against the Cardinals, Castro is hitting .302 with a .368 OBP in July. The recent spike has improved his overall batting average to .243 after a season-low water mark of .228 on June 23. His July numbers, while admittedly a small sample size, compare incredibly favorably to Castro’s meager numbers from May and June. In May, Castro averaged .252 with a .295 OPB, while in June those numbers plummeted to .167 and .204, respectively.
In addition to reducing the pre-pitch movement in his swing, Castro seems more focused. No play exemplifies this more than Castro’s advance on Cardinals’ third baseman David Freese’s two-base error last night. In the bottom of the fourth, Castro laced a sharp ground ball that bounded off of Freese’s glove and into left center field. It took a hustling and instinctual Castro to make it safely to second base. Sure Castro is prone to absent-mindedness. But I sense we have seen a turning point in his 2013 season of struggles and the reemergence of the Castro from 2010 to 2012 that had the Cubs organization giddily penciling him as a piece of their core.
There is also lots to address among the Cubs minor league affiliates. RHP Kyle Hendricks, starting for the Tennessee Smokies, the Cubs AA Southern League affiliate, pitched five innings of shutout ball, allowing four hits and one walk in earning his ninth win against just three losses. Hendricks’ season ERA is 2.03, as he continues to make a case for Southern League Pitcher of the Year. In 106 1/3 innings, he has yielded 90 hits, only three home runs and 24 walks. He has fanned 85, and opposing hitters are averaging just .228 against him. Hendricks, 23, was one of two players acquired from the Texas Rangers in the Ryan Dempster deal at last season’s trade deadline.
The other player acquired in that trade was third-baseman Christian Villanueva, 22, who aided Hendricks’ effort last night by clubbing his 12th home run and driving in his 47th. His 12 homers rank among the top six in the Southern League, and his 23 are good for a first place tie. Even if Cubs 2013 first round pick Kris Bryant ultimately becomes the long term option at third base for the Cubs, Villanueva might fit in somewhere else on the roster or at a minimum become a valuable trade asset.
Earlier this week, the Cubs traded outfielder Scott Hairston to the Washington Nationals for starting pitching prospect, RH Ivan Pineyro, 21. Entering his first start with Daytona, the Cubs Advanced Class A Florida State League affiliate, Pineyro had amassed a 13-11 in 42 starts with a 3.17 ERA since debuting in 2011. In 204 1/3 innings, he had allowed 193 hits, ten home runs and 57 walks, while fanning 195. Last night, he pitched five shutout innings for Daytona, earning the win. He scattered five hits and walk.
Returning to AA Tennessee, SS Javier Baez, perhaps the Cubs top overall prospect, appears to be getting his bearings after a rough start following his promotion from Daytona. After homering in his first at bat as a Smokie, Baez, 20, went four games without a hit, a 0-16 skid. But he has now hit safely in three straight games, in which he has homered twice and driven in three runs. Despite not playing for Daytona for almost two weeks, his seventeen home runs are still good for a second place tie in the Florida State League.Follow paulmbanks