Garza Set to Return to Cubs Rotation, Villanueva Moved to the Bullpen

The Cubs made it official on Saturday and as expected Matt Garza will make his 2013 debut on Tuesday when the Cubs open at a three-game series in Pittsburgh against the red-hot Pirates. The Cubs announced on Saturday morning that Garza would return to the Cubs’ rotation and Carlos Villanueva would move from the rotation to the bullpen.

Dale Sveum told reporters that Villanueva took the news very professionally. Sveum plans on using Villanueva in multiple roles, just not as a long reliever, because he has a repertoire to be effective in short stints or long outings out of the pen.

Tuesday will be Garza’s first appearance on a big league mound since last July 21 in St. Louis. Garza will be limited to 85-90 pitches.

The corresponding roster move will not be made until Tuesday. Carlos Villanueva will be available out of the bullpen and the Cubs will have an extra arm in the pen for the finale against the Mets on Sunday.

Matt Garza threw his scheduled bullpen at Wrigley on Saturday, and he is obviously ready to return to a big league mound. Garza called his rehab from a strained left lat injury that sidelined him in February a grind, both mentally and physically.

Garza’s season came to an abrupt ending last July in St. Louis. Garza suffered a stress reaction in his right elbow just as the Cubs were close to dealing him for a package of prospects prior to the deadline. Garza was 5-7 in 18 starts with a 3.91 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP before being shut down for the remainder of the year.

According to several reports, the Cubs considered going with a six-man rotation for a short time. The Cubs obviously decided against it and will send Carlos Villanueva to the pen. Villanueva was signed to a two-year, $10 million contract to be the Cubs’ swingman in the off-season. Villanueva pitched surprisingly well in April. Villanueva posted a 1-1 record in his first five starts of the year with a 2.29 ERA and a 0.82 WHIP while holding teams to a .171 batting average. Villanueva has not been as sharp of late. In his last three starts, 0-2 with a 7.27 ERA and a 1.79 WHIP … and teams have hit close to .400 against him (.377).

Carlos Villanueva was not happy about the Cubs’ decision but took the news very professionally, as would be expected from the veteran. The numbers show Villanueva has been more effective during his career as a reliever. In 245 games out of a bullpen, Villanueva owns 3.76 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP while averaging nine strikeouts per nine innings and 2.57 strikeouts for every walk.

The Cubs need for Matt Garza to come back to the rotation and to be nothing more than Matt Garza. A healthy, effective Garza would give the front office options moving forward.

In his two seasons in a Cubs uniform, Garza is 15-17 with a 3.52 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP. In 49 games (301 2/3 innings) Garza has struck out 293 batters while walking 95 and surrendering 276 hits. Garza has front of the rotation stuff and has shown he knows how to win ballgames. Many think the Cubs will trade Garza once he proves he is healthy, and that could end up being the route the front office takes in order to maximize his value. Reports in recent days have suggested the Cubs could keep Garza and try to sign him to a contract extension. Or keep him and let him finish out the season then make him a qualifying offer in the off-season which would give them another pick in next year’s draft if he decides to test the market and signs with another team.

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