Garza puts work in to achieve bounceback '17

Right-hander is entering final season of his four-year contract

Garza puts work in to achieve bounceback '17

PHOENIX -- The workouts started at 5 a.m., five days a week. Matt Garza and Brewers pitching prospect Luis Ortiz met at a gym in Fresno, Calif., before the sun came up.

At 7 a.m., Garza left to take his kids to school, but he was back by 9 for weightlifting or baseball work, depending on the day of the week. Twice a week, the players met again at night for kickboxing. The next morning, they were back in the gym.

"It's more for the mental aspect. Like, can you beat yourself?" Garza said. "It's a test every morning. The grind here isn't who can work out the most, it's who is willing to put themselves out there? Who is willing to sacrifice?

"That's my whole thing. When I'm tired of waking up that early, then it's time for me to leave. You understand? When I'm tired of doing all this, then it's time to go."

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Garza is not ready to leave, not entering the final season of his four-year, $50 million contract that represents the richest deal for a pitcher in Brewers history. Not after another season maddeningly shortened by injury. Not after he finished strong in 2016, with a 2.97 ERA over his final six starts.

At 33, Garza is the second-most veteran Brewers pitcher to rubber-armed reliever Carlos Torres.

"I had to stop cardio, running, the last month, because I was underweight and didn't have the right body fat," Garza said. "I was down to 212 pounds and 7.5 percent body fat. They wanted me to report back at 220 and 12 percent. So I stopped running and ate everything. Avocados were my best friend for the month of January.

"The hardest part [of last season] was stopping, because I felt so good at the end. The last month, I really felt like I found my gear, like I was taking off again. So I had to shut the body down but let the mind still keep turning. It was a good offseason that way."

He is hopeful that work will translate to a good season, following two subpar ones. Garza had a 3.64 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP in 27 starts in 2014, his first season with Milwaukee, but combined to post a 5.18 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP in years two and three. In 2015, he pitched through hip and shoulder discomfort, was removed from the rotation in September and blasted then-general manager Doug Melvin. In 2016, Garza spent the first two-and-a-half months of the season on the disabled list with a right lat strain.

When he returned, he pitched with a fastball that averaged 92.2 mph, the lowest mark of a big league career that began in 2006 with the Twins. But Garza was effective, especially down the stretch, when he surrendered two or fewer earned runs in seven of his final 11 starts.

"I think Matt's thing is he's had to make some adjustments," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "Players have to adjust. He got comfortable with those adjustments, started to execute those adjustments. You have to understand who you are now, the 'new you.' I think that's what Matt had to do. You're hoping that last year was the start of that."

Health would help. Garza has not reached 30 starts or 165 innings since 2011.

"I put the work in," he said. "I would be -- not disappointed, but pretty upset if something turns up [physically] again. But who am I to know? You take every day and enjoy it and see what happens."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. 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.