Garza comeback opens with scary comebacker

Righty OK, works encouraging 1 2/3 innings in spring debut

Garza comeback opens with scary comebacker

PHOENIX -- The baseball gods took one more shot at Matt Garza on Sunday. The Brewers veteran right-hander hopes it was their last.

Garza recovered from a leadoff comebacker in his spring debut against the Indians, a 6-5 Brewers victory, logging five outs and allowing a home run in an outing that represented the beginning of his comeback bid. No returning Brewers player reported to camp more eager to move on from 2015.

Brewers Spring Training info

"Today I had a lot of nerves," Garza said, "and that [the Jason Kipnis comebacker that clipped Garza's right lower leg] wasn't a way to calm them down.

"But it was nice to be out there pain-free. I still have a long, long, long way to go with fighting bad habits that I created having to compensate for hurt or weak spots. It's a long and painful process, I'll tell you that."

Last year was a long and painful season. Garza went 6-14 with a 5.63 ERA and, like fellow veteran Kyle Lohse, suffered the indignity of losing his spot in the starting rotation.

Garza said little about it then, but has opened up this spring about the physical factors at work. Now north of 30 years old, he says he suffered poor hip mobility and core weakness as a result of what Garza calls "not bad training, just uninformed training."

Counsell on Garza's mindset

"It put a lot of pressure on my shoulder, and every week in the trainer's room [was spent] just to get to the next start," Garza said. "Not just to be all right -- just to get to the start. So it was a trying year, but I wasn't one to say I'm not going to throw. I want the ball every five days."

Garza turned 32 in November and still has two years and $25 million remaining on his Brewers contract.

"The big thing is that Matt's in a great frame of mind, because he's anxious to prove something," said Brewers manager Craig Counsell. "He wants to be better. I feel like he's in a good place to be better. It's motivating for him, for sure."

What makes Counsell believe Garza is in such a good place?

"If you ask me what I've seen, that's what I think," Counsell said. "I just think it's an attitude and how he's talking. Even his comments at fanfest, I completely get those comments. I completely understand those comments. It makes sense to me. He has to do what makes him successful; I think that's what he's saying."

30 in 30: Matt Garza

Garza's comments at Brewers On Deck -- including, "I'm going to be a little selfish and pitch for me and pitch to win for me" -- were read by some to suggest that Garza might not have meshed with former Brewers pitching coach Rick Kranitz.

Others read it as Garza being a poor teammate.

Counsell said neither was true.

"It's just him understanding that he has to please himself before he has to please others sometimes," Counsell said. "That sounds like a selfish thing, [but] that's not selfish. That's how you have to act sometimes.

"Every conversation with him has been great. Like I said, he's in a good state of mind. I think he feels good about where his body's at. I think he's in that transition as an athlete, age-wise, a little bit, where you're going to that next stage as an athlete. His early live sessions against hitters have been excellent. I mean, excellent.

"It's really encouraging."

On Sunday, Garza took the next step by facing hitters wearing a different uniform. He walked two batters after fielding Kipnis' comebacker for an out, but did not allow a run in the opening inning. In the second inning, Garza grooved a fastball to Collin Cowgill for a solo home run.

"I felt like I was a rookie again," Garza said. "It was exciting, but at the same time a little relief, like it's not going to be a long season. It was like first-time-in-camp nerves. It was that type of body feel. My stuff's showing it. I dropped some great curveballs in today, threw a couple good sliders. Even the ones I hung, they had good, late break. It's just a work in progress and heading in the right direction.

  "I'm really excited. Like I said in January, I'm going to pitch selfishly. Not in the terms of pitch for myself, but pitch to be myself, and I feel like I'm on the right path."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.