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ATL@MIL: Garza flirts with no-hitter in debut

Matt Garza stopped long enough to say eight words about his first career start against the Cubs, the club that traded him away last summer.

Asked whether there was anything special about facing his former team, the Brewers right-hander said, "Not really. There's your answer. It's another ballgame."

And then he was off.

Garza had more to say to the Chicago Sun-Times during Spring Training, when he told the newspaper he didn't relish being on the trading block for much of 2012 and 2013, but mostly enjoyed his time in Chicago.

"And I wish them the best," he told the newspaper. "But I like where I'm at, and I'm going to try to kick their teeth in every time I get a chance."

Garza won't be the only starting pitcher facing a familiar opponent on Friday in the series opener at Miller Park. He will pitch opposite Cubs right-hander Carlos Villanueva, who pitched as a Brewers swingman from 2006 to 2010.

These are the first three of 19 matchups between the Brewers and Cubs in 2014, so Garza presumably will see more of the team for which he made 60 starts from 2011-13, going 21-18 with a 3.45 ERA. After months of rumors, Chicago traded him to the Rangers in July for a package of players that included third baseman Mike Olt and pitcher Justin Grimm, each on the current Cubs roster.  

Garza hit the free-agent market after the season and turned down an offer from the Angels before signing with Milwaukee for four years and $50 million, the richest contract for a free agent in Brewers history.

Considering his reputation for unbridled emotion, how will Garza handle facing his former team?

"Hard to say," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "I don't know what he's going to be like. It's changed from outing to outing. The more we see him, the more we'll understand. We saw that when he was on the other side and we were facing him, we know that when he was comfortable and in a groove, we were going to have a tough day. We hoped and tried to get him out of that groove."

Garza has yet to find a groove with the Brewers, partly because of poor run support and poor defense. In his last start against the Pirates, second baseman Rickie Weeks misplayed a simple double-play grounder and it led to a five-run inning, with four of the runs charged to Garza because the rules prevent an official scorer from assuming a double play.

In four Brewers starts, Garza is 0-2 with a 4.50 ERA, the highest ERA among the team's five starting pitchers.

"I think the last game where we didn't play well behind him defensively and he had the tough inning, it may have gotten to him a little bit," Roenicke said. "But I thought he kept his composure and still tried to make pitches. Sometimes we're not making plays, and sometimes he makes a good pitch and they roll one right between somebody. It's always a little bit of both."

Roenicke added: "He can definitely throw the ball better, and I've seen better. Hopefully we get him in a groove where we see this consistency from him and we get a lot of good outings in a row."

Garza is unique, and his former teammates were looking forward to seeing him.

"He's a normal pitcher -- fastball, slider, curveball guy," Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro said of Garza.

A radio reporter asked Castro if he really called Garza "normal."

"He's a normal pitcher, not a normal guy," Castro said. "He's a guy. I'm not going to say anything about him. He was good with me. We talked, and we never had a problem."

Edwin Jackson will have a front-row seat in the dugout to watch his former teammate.

"I'm sure Garza is going to be Garza," Jackson said. "He hasn't changed. We're going to battle. It should be a good matchup. [Villanueva] is going against his old team, Garza is against his old team. It should be a fun one to watch."

Jackson knows something about facing former teammates, having pitched for eight different teams in his career.

"As a pitcher, you're going out and trying to be aware of whoever you're playing, regardless of whether it's a team you've played on or not," Jackson said. "You try to go 110 percent against whoever you're facing. If you try to do too much, the outcome normally isn't what you want. It should be a good game tomorrow."

Chicago manager Rick Renteria said this will be a good challenge for his young club.

"It's another good club -- great for us," Renteria said of the upcoming series. "Why? Because it's a test. Every game we play in the Central Division is a test. The reality is every team you play, you can't take anyone for granted. On any given day, a club puts it together and you come out with a victory.

"Good for us -- we're playing the Milwaukee Brewers, they've been hot, OK, let's see how we're going to respond to a club that's playing well, let's see what we can show, let's see where we're at."

Cubs: Ruggiano sidelined; Extra arms added
Outfielder Justin Ruggiano hit his first Cubs home run in the sixth inning of Wednesday's loss to the D-backs, but then strained his left hamstring in the ninth chasing a ball, and will be sidelined three to four weeks.

He was placed on the 15-day disabled list Thursday, but the Cubs did not add another outfielder. Instead, they added two pitchers, Neil Ramirez and Zac Rosscup, and will rely on Emilio Bonifacio's versatility to fill in the outfield.

"The swing was starting to feel good -- of course, it's never a good time," Ruggiano said. "I can't look back and have to worry about getting back on the field."

Jason Hammel, Travis Wood and Jeff Samardzija have been able to go deep in games, but Edwin Jackson and Villanueva have not, which has put a burden on the bullpen.

"Right now, we can use the pitching," Renteria said.

Brewers: Bullpen back to full strength
The Brewers made a roster move on Thursday to activate right-handed setup man Brandon Kintzler from the disabled list after a two-week recovery from a right rotator cuff strain. Kintzler cleared his final hurdle Wednesday when he threw a simulated game at Miller Park.

Kintzler is very eager to rejoin a bullpen that has been a Brewers strength, even in his absence.

"I'm dying," Kintzler said. "I can't deal with the stress of these games anymore. Half the time I can't watch the pitches. It's just tough when you can't control it. I feel like I'm emotionally attached to everyone that is pitching. I want everyone to do good. I want to see them succeed. Hopefully, I can get back and help out a bit."

Reliever Alfredo Figaro was sent back to Triple-A Nashville to clear a spot for Kintzler.

Worth noting
• Milwaukee's Jean Segura on Wednesday hit his first home run in 256 at-bats dating to last season, a welcome sight for Roenicke. He dropped Segura from the two-hole in the batting order earlier this week to eighth Wednesday, hoping to ease some of the pressure on the team's second-year shortstop.

"I think he's thinking a lot," Roenicke said. "That's why I moved him down, so he wouldn't have to feel like he's got to get on base for our guys. Now, hopefully, he's at a spot where you relax a little bit. You know you're still important, but it's not the same as when you're hitting second."

• The Brewers are off Thursday after playing 16 days in a row. As hot as they are, would they rather keep playing?

"The guys could use a day off," Roenicke said. "There's a lot of guys out there playing who are playing because we need them, but they could use a day."

• Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez is 9-for-9 in save opportunities and 12-for-12 in scoreless appearances. He needs one more save to tie Robb Nenn for 18th all-time at 314 saves.

• Cubs starting pitchers have gone at least seven innings in each of the last four games for the first time since June 15-18 last season against the Mets and the Cardinals. At that time, Scott Feldman, Garza, Wood and Samardzija did so.

• Bonifacio has nine multi-hit games, most on the Cubs, and leads the team with a .358 batting average.

• The Cubs have yet to win a series this season, and are winless in their last 12 series, dating to Sept. 9-11, 2013, at Cincinnati. Comments