Garza takes the next step

MILWAUKEE -- Chicago Cubs pitcher Matt Garza took one step closer to returning from his lat injury Friday night, throwing two innings of a simulated game before the Cubs took on the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.

“I just was happy to be out there,” Garza said afterwards. “It was cold, there were no lights, but who cares. Pretty excited, pretty pumped. Now back to work.”

Garza threw with teammates taking turns in the batter’s box from both sides of the plate while pitching coach Chris Bosio and manager Dale Sveum looked on.

“He was a little rusty being on the mound with hitters out there,” Sveum said. “He felt great. Slider was a little off, curveball was good. Fastball had a lot of life.”

The plan is for Garza to throw about 45 pitches in a Double-A game next Wednesday, then five days later he’ll do it again in the minors at a place to be determined. He’ll throw once more after that and then -- finally -- he should be ready to join the Cubs, barring any setbacks. That would place him back in the rotation around the weekend of May 10 against the Washington Nationals.

Garza has been out with a lat strain on his left side since early in spring training after missing the second half of last season with an elbow problem.

Analysis: If Garza can return to form in short order, the Cubs starting staff could be formidable. Off to a good start already, a boost to the rotation from him gives opponents more to think about. And even if one of them comes down from their current form, Garza’s return can offset that drop off. But he’ll have to prove it on the mound first, it’s been a while since he’s been a dominant pitcher.

Fujikawa on pace: Cubs reliever Kyuji Fujikawa threw from 75 feet on Friday in Chicago as he continues to recover from a strain in his right arm. He’s on pace to return from the disabled list on time, but he’ll go to the minors for a rehab stint first.

Sveum previously said Fujikawa, who went on the DL about a week ago, would reclaim the closer’s role when he’s healthy.

Analysis: Maybe Sveum should just go with whoever is closing best at the time and let Fujikawa settle back in as a set-up man -- unless he’s needed back there out of desperation. Fujikawa admitted he was a little surprised he was promoted to closer so quick, a little less pressure on him as he returns might be a good thing.