Garza nearly lived up to the pre-game hype, but Travis Snider spoiled the pitcher's return with a pinch-hit grand slam in the sixth off Shawn Camp to lift the Pirates to a 5-4 victory over the Cubs.
In his first start since July 21, Garza walked three, struck out five, and gave up one hit, a soft single to right by Clint Barmes with one out in the fifth. The plan was to limit Garza to 80-90 pitches, and he was lifted afer 82.
"That's what we wanted out of him," Sveum said. "We weren't going to let him go too much after that. He had a really good slider, and obviously, command. When he was missing, it was by very little. It was outstanding for his first time back."
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was impressed.
"He's a pro," Hurdle said of Garza. "That was very, very good stuff you saw out of Matt Garza tonight. Live fastballs, both sides of the plate with late life, the breaking ball, the changeup -- that's the kid they wanted when they made the deal for him. That's almost a year away from the game, that's electric stuff. He just showed you what he's capable of doing."
Garza had missed the second half of 2012 because of right elbow problems and strained his left lat on Feb. 17. After having his patience tested in rehab, he finally made his season debut.
"It's nice to have that kind of caliber starter back in your rotation," Sveum said.
The first inning was key, and the right-hander threw 22 pitches, 12 for strikes. He was saved by Julio Borbon, who snared Andrew McCutchen's fly ball on the run, then slammed into the fence.
"I had a little nerves that I had to fight off early," Garza said. "I was disappointed I didn't go deeper. I don't like coming out in the fifth. That's not what I train for, that's not what I strive to do. It is what it is -- I felt great being back out there, but it [stinks] the way it ended."
If Garza seemed deliberate at the start of the game, he was. He was trying to settle himself down.
"I was real excited and the butterflies came back," he said. "The first innings flew by me real quick. I opened my eyes and it was the third, and I said, 'What the heck?' I'm happy to be back."
Alfonso Soriano and Welington Castillo each singled in the second, and with two outs, Darwin Barney delivered an RBI single. Garza then doubled into the gap in right-center to drive in two more and open a 3-0 lead. Cubs pitchers now have 13 RBIs this month, tops in the Major Leagues. It was his second career double.
The Pirates loaded the bases with one out in the sixth against Hector Rondon, and James Russell took over and walked Pedro Alvarez to force in a run. Camp replaced Russell, and one out later, Snider launched a 2-1 pitch into the center-field bleachers for his first career grand slam.
"I've played with and against Camp for a number of years now," Snider said. "He tends to get guys to chase out of the zone. He made a mistake up in the zone, and I was able to get enough of it, sneak it over the wall and come through.
"It's an elevated changeup," Snider said. "I'm sure it's not where he wanted to throw it. As a hitter, that's where you want to see it. You just hope you get enough of it or hit it hard enough where it's gonna find some grass."
Snider's right. The pitch wasn't where Camp wanted it.
"The ball was just up," Camp said. "I've got to work down. That's it."
"It's hard to pinpoint," Sveum said of Camp's problems. "First and foremost, when a guy like that is losing two, three miles on his fastball, everything else is a little short. That's where we are. He's having trouble getting the ball to 87 miles an hour right now."
Sveum went with Rondon because he liked the matchup, and said that even though Carlos Villanueva was fresh in the 'pen, he hadn't had success against that part of the Pirates lineup.
"We had it set up for Russell to get Alvarez out and Camp to get (Gaby) Sanchez out, and obviously it snowballed and Camp hung a changeup again -- back-to-back days we hung changeups that basically shouldn't have even been thrown to that individual," Sveum said. "We had it. Two veteran guys [in Russell and Camp]. That's just the way it goes. The biggest pitch was a guy's last pitch, and we're getting beat on a guy's last pitch."
Last year, Sveum called Camp the MVP in the first half. Prior to the game, the Cubs designated Michael Bowden for assignment to open a roster spot for Garza. Sveum likes Camp when he's on because of his slider and his durability.
Right now, he's struggling.
"Sometimes, you go in these ruts and you just have to get your way out of them," said Camp, who has given up six runs on 10 hits and three walks over 5 1/3 innings in May.
It was the 10th blown save for the Cubs in 45 games, which is not a good pace. They're still struggling to score runs.
"Two of our runs were driven in by a pitcher," Sveum said. "We have to be better and score runs and get those big hits and bust games open."
On the plus side, Garza did hit 95 mph on the radar gun. His every start will be closely scrutinized, and not just by the Cubs. Last year, the Cubs dealt Paul Maholm and Ryan Dempster at the Trade Deadline. Could Garza be next?
"That's all out of my hands," Sveum said. "I don't make those decisions and budgets and all that. It all comes down to where we're at in the organization and what we feel is the right thing to do at the time."