Cubs get positive news on injured players Stewart, Garza
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Sun-Times Media March 11, 2013 11:16PM
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — If the Cubs are going to have any chance of getting off to a competitive start this season, then Monday might wind up being one of the biggest days of spring training to that end.
The Cubs got positive news from the medical staff about several players, including a better-than-expected prognosis on third baseman Ian Stewart, a player the Cubs’ brass had visions of getting 25 or more home runs from since they day they traded for him more than a year ago.
And right-hander Matt Garza, who has been sidelined since Feb. 17 because of a strained left lat, started throwing again, playing catch from 45 feet just more than a week after being shut down for the second time by the injury.
Stewart, who hasn’t played since suffering a strained quadriceps in an intrasquad game Feb. 21, is scheduled to make his Cactus League debut off the bench Thursday, manager Dale Sveum said after Stewart fared well in practice and running drills. The news came a day after Sveum said Stewart’s return might have to be pushed back because the quad still was bothering him Saturday.
“We were a little bit worried that it was going to be maybe next week, but he’s gotten (there) a little bit quicker,” said Sveum, who stressed Stewart still needs to win the job, even though Stewart said Saturday he thinks the job is his if he’s ready to play. “He came in knowing it was a job (he has to win). He’s going to have to just play well and produce, and we’ll see where we’re at.”
Stewart, who said his surgically repaired left wrist has felt great this spring, hit .201 with five home runs before missing the final 3½ months of last season because of the wrist. The Cubs non-tendered him, then re-signed him for a discount $2 million deal. Because it’s a one-year contract, the Cubs can save all but $500,000 of it if they release him before the season opener.
“I have absolutely no concern about that at all,” said Stewart, who has said he considers himself the starting third baseman “until they get rid of me.”
Several signs pointed in that direction for much of the first month of camp, but Cubs officials now seem more optimistic about Stewart’s chances to be an important part of the lineup for a team that desperately needs improved production this season, particularly at third base.
“There’s still 16 or 17 possible (spring) games left, starting Thursday,” Sveum said. “You’re looking at hopefully cramming 30 at-bats into that and some minor-league at-bats, too. So there’s plenty of time to evaluate him.”
If Stewart is a potential key to the lineup, the speed and effectiveness of Garza’s return might be the key to the starting rotation being strong enough to keep the trade dogs at bay in July. He threw 25 easy tosses Monday and is expected to throw again Wednesday.
Garza, who missed the last two months of last season because of a stress reaction in his right elbow, might have time for one Cactus League game before the end of camp and is expected to spend the first two to four weeks of the regular season on the disabled list.