CHICAGO – Cubs right-hander Scott Feldman could not have timed his turn around much better.
With Matt Garza scheduled to come off the disabled list Tuesday at Pittsburgh for his first start since July 21, manager Dale Sveum was forced to choose who would get booted from the rotation: Feldman or right-hander Carlos Villanueva.
Unfortunately for Villanueva, he will become the odd man out when Garza takes the mound in two days. Villanueva’s versatility and extensive past bullpen experience played a part in Sveum’s decision, but Feldman’s dominance in his last five starts left no doubt as to who was the best choice to remain in the rotation.
“I don’t think it was a competition,” Sveum said of Villanueva and Feldman. “It was more of somebody being able to do something else. But, my God, Feldman pitched unbelievable for his last [five] starts.”
Feldman immediately boosted Sveum’s decisions before Saturday’s game against the Mets. For a seventh consecutive start, Feldman allowed two earned runs or fewer with an impressive performance in an 8-2 win against the Mets. Feldman (4-3) held New York scoreless on seven hits in 6 2/3 innings, walking only one batter and striking out six on 109 pitches.
“He’s not letting left-handers beat him for one,” Sveum said. “His cutter’s been incredible, where he’s been able to locate it and get it in on their hands and keep left-handed hitters from getting extended.
Feldman understands the situation Villanueva is going through better than any of their teammates. During his last two seasons with the Rangers, Feldman broke camp as a reliever and earned starts throughout both years as Texas’ backup option for the rotation. Villanueva hasn’t been shy about his desire to be a starter and in the weeks preceding Garza’s return, he did not sound pleased about a potential move to the bullpen. Sveum said Villanueva handled the news professionally when informed he would not be starting once Garza returned Tuesday.
“Getting Garza back should be a big boost, but at the same time I feel for Villanueva because he’s done everything that he could really,” Feldman said. “I do feel bad for him, but I think everybody’s excited to get Garza back.”
After beginning the season 0-3 with a 4.50 ERA, Feldman’s turnaround has been remarkable. He is 4-0 with a 1.28 ERA in his last five starts.
“Mechanically everything feels a lot better than it did in spring training,” Feldman said. “Just keep working and try to keep it that way the rest of the season.”
Even without Garza, the Cubs (18-24) have one of the best rotations in the majors. Their 3.47 ERA ranks fifth in MLB and should be bolstered by Garza, who has always been expected to fill the role of the Cubs’ No. 1 pitcher though hasn’t consistently achieved those expectations. But more importantly Saturday against the Mets, the Cubs capitalized on a great outing by their starting pitcher. That must continue if the Cubs want to stay clear of 100 losses this season.
“These guys keep throwing the ball the way they have the first six weeks … once [Garza] gets settled in, it’s got a chance of being a pretty nice, if not one of the top, rotations in the league right now,” Sveum said.
• Meghan Montemurro covers the White Sox and Cubs for Shaw Media. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Sox Insider and Inside the Cubs blogs at NWHerald.com and on Twitter @Sox_Insider and @InsideTheCubs.