Garza's performance the perfect audition

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Take Matt Garza at his word and he swears he isn’t thinking about possibly being traded.

Judging by his performance Wednesday, it sure seemed like he was auditioning for contending teams looking to add a pitcher.

Garza was in top form in silencing the Oakland A's during a 3-1 Chicago Cubs victory before a sellout crowd at O.co Coliseum. He gave up just four hits over eight innings. He pumped his fastball into the mid-90s early in the game.

And just when it seemed he was losing some zip, he dug deeper in the eighth, getting Oakland cleanup hitter Yoenis Cespedes to pop out to strand a runner at third.

“That’s as good as I’ve seen him in two years,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “He had command of his fastball down and away. He didn’t use a whole lot of breaking balls, but he had the extra velocity when he needed it.

“That’s as impressive as you’re gonna get with seven left-handers in the [opposing] lineup.”

Surely, pitching-hungry teams took notice. The Boston Red Sox were among the teams who had a scout on hand to watch Garza.

The Cubs, at 36-46 and 15½ games out of first in the National League Central, have already dealt veteran starter Scott Feldman, and there’s no reason to think they won’t dump other front-line players before the July 31 trade deadline.

Garza (4-1), sounding much like outfielder Alfonso Soriano on Tuesday night, said he isn’t consumed by the trade chatter.

“For six, seven years my name has gone around” in trade rumors, Garza said. “[Until] my phone rings, I’m gonna plan on being a Cub and I’m gonna stay a Cub. We’ll see.”

After missing the first month and a half with a lat injury, Garza went through a rough patch. But he has allowed just three earned runs over his past four starts (30 IP). He carries a 3.45 ERA in nine starts overall.

Most pitchers enjoy night games at the Coliseum because the ball doesn’t carry well, but Garza has another reason to enjoy throwing here. The Fresno, Calif., native is a huge Oakland Raiders fan and usually attends two or three football games at the Coliseum every season.

But the big question surrounding Garza is where he’ll be spending August, September and possibly October. Based on how he looked Wednesday, lots of general managers might be dialing Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein in the coming days.

Strop gets loose

Newly acquired reliever Pedro Strop was warming up in the eighth along with lefty James Russell, but Sveum let Garza work his way through the inning despite his rising pitch count.

That allowed Sveum to go directly to closer Kevin Gregg for the ninth. Sveum lamented his bullpen’s recent inability to protect leads after Tuesday’s game, and he was going to give Garza an extra-long leash.

“It was his game basically,” Sveum said. “He knew it. He got through it.”

But Sveum also pointed out how important it was to get an insurance run in the top of the eighth.

Dioner Navarro and Brian Bogusevic doubled in back-to-back plate appearances against Sean Doolittle to push Chicago’s lead from 2-1 to 3-1.

“It probably kept Garza in the game, adding the run there,” Sveum said.

Strong effort for Valbuena

Luis Valbuena went 2-for-5, and his home run in the third off Bartolo Colon was his first since May 30.

First day on the job

It’s always interesting to see the interaction when new players arrive via trade. The scene is very much like someone arriving in the office for their first day of work, with lots of handshakes as people introduce themselves.

That’s how it was for Strop and fellow reliever Matt Guerrier, who arrived Wednesday after trades from the Baltimore Orioles and the Los Angeles Dodgers, respectively.

Strop did see one familiar face.

He had a hearty embrace for Gregg. The two were Orioles teammates from 2011 to 2012.

But from now until the July 31 trade deadline, the real story will be which players the Cubs say goodbye to.