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Stock on rise for Cubs starter Matt Garza

CHICAGO -- Trade rumors surrounding Matt Garza will only grow now that the Chicago Cubs right-hander has been dominating for two consecutive outings.

How will Garza handle the chatter moving forward?

“I’m looking forward to the next five days,” he said. “I think I face Milwaukee in Milwaukee and I will be ready.”

If anything, Garza is focused. He showed that by giving up just one run on four hits in eight innings during Friday’s 3-1 victory over the Houston Astros. Garza was given the opportunity to get the complete game, but was removed when he walked the leadoff batter in the ninth inning.

“I was a little upset I didn’t finish it, but that’s on me,” Garza said. “When you walk the leadoff man in the ninth, there is no reason to leave me in there. You just hand it over and watch.”

With better luck, the Cubs can pull off the deal that escaped them last year, when Garza suffered a season-ending arm injury in July. Things looked bleak this spring, though, when a left lat strain put him on the disabled list to start the season.

He didn’t make his 2013 debut until May 21, essentially keeping him out of action for 10 months. Over the last two outings, though, he has made up for lost time.

In his previous outing, Garza held the New York Mets scoreless over seven innings and has now given up a combined one run on seven hits over his last two starts. The two outings came after the Cincinnati Reds roughed him up for nine runs over five innings.

“His fastball had life on it and he had command of it down and away, and inside,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “He got ground balls on fastballs in, and his slider got better as the game went on. He did a great job.”

The return of the slider could be key for the Cubs to get maximum return for Garza on the trade market. When he was with the Tampa Bay Rays, Garza’s slider was as good as they come. In recent years it hasn’t been as solid, but that could be slowly changing.

His rough outing against the Reds -- and the four runs he gave up before that in 6⅓ innings against the Los Angeles Angels -- are starting to look like a brief period of his arm being tired, which is typical of pitchers either getting to full strength during spring training or coming back from injury.

“Ten months off is a long time,” Garza said. “There were no excuses for my first five [outings of the season]; I was just trying to find my way again.

“Stuff is getting back to being more fluid, free and easy, and I’m not forcing a lot of stuff.”

It all should mean that Garza will have a maximum of 5½ more weeks remaining in a Cubs uniform before he is traded to a contender. Until that day comes, Sveum will lean on his right-hander.

“You don’t want to lose a guy that has basically given up one run over his last 16 innings,” Sveum said. “You want to keep those guys. But, obviously, it’s a business and that’s not my [department].”