Matt Garza working on mechanics at Spring Training
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA—Since joining the Milwaukee Brewers last year, pitcher Matt Garza has maintained that spring training is a process for him.
This year that process includes revamped pitching mechanics aimed at smoothing out his delivery and, he hopes, keeping him healthy for the entire season.
Garza let reporters in on the changes in the wake of his second spring start on Wednesday, a three-inning stint in a 6-3 victory over the San Francisco Giants at Scottsdale Stadium. The veteran right-hander allowed four hits, two runs (earned) and two walks to go along with a pair of strikeouts, inducing a couple double-play balls to end the first and second innings before finishing up with a strong 1-2-3 third.
“Today I ironed some stuff out,” he said. “I kind of found a rhythm the last inning, and grinded my way through the first two. I'm getting comfortable with my altered mechanics. It feels good.”
Durability has been a concern in recent years for Garza. He missed two months with a muscle strain in his left side while with the Chicago Cubs in 2013 and then spent almost a month on the disabled list last season with the Brewers after suffering a left oblique strain in August.
Garza still pitched 163 innings in 2014, his highest total since pitching 198 with the Cubs in 2011. But to get him back to the 200-inning mark would be huge for the Brewers, who don't have much starting-pitching depth after trading Yovani Gallardo to the Texas Rangers in late January.
With that in mind, Garza and his younger brother Michael Garza—a former pitcher and current high-school coach who has spearheaded Garza's off-season training the last 4-5 years—set forth to find a reason for his recent injury issues.
“The last two seasons, me and my brother, who had been along with me this whole career, we kind of broke it down,” Matt Garza said. “When stuff gets exposed, you leave it open for injury, and that's what I was doing, There's so much torque coming down that mountain, that you can only hold so much so many times.
“We're trying to make it consistent to where it doesn't have to hold that any more, and it spreads out my whole body. That's why I trained so hard.”
Entering his 10th season in the major leagues, the 31-year-old Garza is trying to embrace change.
“You always have to adapt,” he said. “Your body's not the same as it was 10 years ago. It's hard for me to admit that, but it isn't. Muscles tend to do what they do, and over time, they harden. You have to find a way to keep it going.”
Garza is faring better through his first two Cactus League starts than he did last spring, sporting an 0-1 record and 5.40 earned run average over five total innings. More important is his stuff is sharper, sooner.
“Last year, we were 4-5 games into it and he didn't have the stuff we were used to seeing from him,” manager Ron Roenicke said. “The ball's coming out like we're used to seeing it come out of his hand. He'll get his location down better. His slider's already better this year.
“I'm liking what I'm seeing from him.”
Garza, too, is pleased with his his feel on the mound to this point.
“It's coming back,” he said. “I think it's more from altering and being more consistent with my mechanics. I'm able to judge more where I can release a ball now. It's not all relying on timing and feel. I know what my body's doing now.
“It's refreshing to be in control when I'm usually a guy who's rarely in control.”
Big paws to fill
Since panda headwear is a thing of the past in San Francisco, what might fans don to honor new Giants third baseman Casey McGehee?
“A donkey,” he said.
McGehee, of course, was being self-deprecating. The former Brewers third baseman had to put himself in position to be wanted as a replacement for Pablo Sandoval, now with Boston. And he did exactly that with a nice comeback season with the Marlins in 2014.
After spending the 2013 season playing in Japan, McGehee resurfaced in Miami and played in 160 games, batting .287 with 29 doubles, four homers and 76 RBI, with a .355 on-base percentage. That normally would have been good enough to stay, but the Giants instead pried him away for a couple of prospects in a deal just before Christmas.
McGehee grew up in nearby Soquel, Calif., so it was a homecoming of sorts.
“It's kind of cool for me to kind of be close to home,” said McGehee, who was the Brewers' team MVP in 2010 when he drove in a team-high 104 runs. “It was a surprise to get traded. I wasn't really expecting it. So far, it's been everything I could have hoped for, and then some.”
But, what about replacing Sandoval, one of the most popular and productive players on the defending World Series champion club, the beloved, round-bellied Panda?
“At the end of the day, it doesn't really help to think about it …,” McGehee said. “It doesn't help me do my job to think about that part of it. I've been telling everybody it's one of those deals where they shouldn't forget him or anything like that. He was part of three World Series teams.
“I think I'm capable of helping this team win a lot of games.”
McGehee, 32, will be a free agent after the season, and Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez already has announced he will retire after 2015. So, what would McGehee think about coming full circle and returning to Milwaukee?
“I'm just hoping that I don't get run out of the league by the end of the year,” McGehee joked.
Blasts from past
The Giants feature two more ex-Brewers, outfielder Norichika Aoki and outfielder/first baseman Travis Ishikawa. Aoki has shown a knack of finding himself in the right place at the right time, an experience also enjoyed by Ishikawa last fall.
Aoki was traded to Kansas City before the 2014 season, landing with a surprising team that won the American League pennant and came within a game of winning the World Series. He then went to the team that beat the Royals, the Giants, signing a free-agent deal for one year plus a club option.
Asked about what he liked about his new club, Aoki said, “Everyone is really relaxed, maybe because we have older players, veteran players.”
As for going from one World Series team to another, Aoki said, “I never thought it would happen. At first it was a little weird but I've gotten used to it and I feel like I'm fitting in.”
Currently playing right field in place of injured Hunter Pence, Aoki said he still keeps in contact with some players in Milwaukee, mainly through translator Kosuke Inaji, who helped with the interview.
“I always try to see what they are doing,” he said. “I know what's going on over there. There's a special place in my heart for the Brewers.
Ishikawa, who played for the Brewers in 2012, had celebrity status in San Francisco over the winter after delivering one of the biggest hits in franchise history. His walk-off home run in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series off St. Louis' Michael Wacha put the eventual champs into the World Series.
“I lived in the Bay Area this past off-season, so I couldn't go anywhere without being recognized,” he said. “It was good, a lot of fun with people getting to tell me their stories of where they were at when it happened.
“To, I guess, be known as a great moment in baseball is real cool, too. Being a kid, wanting to be a major-league baseball player since I was 6 years old, to have that kind of moment is special.”
The affable Ishikawa had a modestly successful stint in Milwaukee. But with Corey Hart expected to return for 2013 and Mat Gamel and Taylor Green also in the fold at the time, Ishikawa wasn't re-signed.
Roenicke said that catcher Jonathan Lucroy (right hamstring strain) would take some at-bats in a minor-league game on Thursday and then try catching a few innings on Friday in advance of joining the Brewers for Cactus League games.
“We want to see how he does,” Roenicke said. “Hopefully he'll get on base a little bit and have to run and we'll see how he is. Hopefully not full-out, but he'll have to run and we'll see how he is.
“He does really good when it's controlled and he's running the bases and all that, but it's so different in the game, what happens.”
Adam Lind (lower back) is scheduled to serve as designated hitter against Colorado on Thursday in Maryvale and get 2-3 at-bats. Asked when he might begin playing first base, Roenicke said he was unsure.
“It'll be a conversation with the trainers and we'll figure that out,” he said.