Chicago right-hander Matt Garza insists he's not nervous. He said that the jitters from pitching his way back to the Majors hit him during his first rehab start with Double-A Tennessee and that his return to a big league mound at PNC Park on Tuesday is more about excitement than nerves.
Garza last toed a Major League rubber exactly 10 months prior to Tuesday's series opener in Pittsburgh, a game that will mark the end of a long recovery from shoulder issues that cut his season short last July and the strained left lat that's kept him off the field through the first 43 games of this season.
"It was tough, but I had my family and my wife and kids the whole time to help me through it," Garza said. "It was a grind, mentally. Physically, I could do anything, but the mental part was the tough part. It was one setback after another, and it was, 'Keep going, keep going, keep going.' I'm just happy I'm here at the end of it and can't wait 'til Tuesday."
Garza may be talking down any tenseness about the start, but his manager, Dale Sveum, knows the challenges of returning to pitch on the game's biggest stage. He's worried -- as he always is with players returning from injury -- that Garza might try to do too much.
"You always worry about that with anybody, because I don't care what you say, it's different when 40,000 people are in the stands and you have third decks on the stadiums," Sveum said. "But he's been around long enough to understand how to control it if he's starting to feel that, so you hope you're able to control that in the first inning and get through that."
Sveum plans to limit Garza to 85 to 90 pitches against the Pirates, who are 8-2 in their last 10 games and have only lost one game this season when leading after seven innings.
Pittsburgh will also be playing with a well-rested Andrew McCutchen, who was given Sunday off to rest his sore knee before Monday's off-day. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle originally planned to give Starling Marte the day off on Sunday, but he had to use the 24-year-old outfielder to give McCutchen an extra day to get healthy.
"I learned that from Whitey Herzog [Hurdle's manager in 1986, with the Cardinals], who'd juggle days of rest around off-days," Hurdle said. "Ozzie Smith would be off the day before, and Jack Clark the day after. 'This way they get two days,' Whitey explained."
Garza will oppose Wandy Rodriguez, who has thrown three straight quality starts after a tough end to April. Rodriguez has been tough to beat at home, where he's 3-1 with a 1.35 ERA. Garza will need the Cubs' offense, which has scored the ninth-most runs in the Majors since the start of May, to produce against the left-hander.
But for Garza, Tuesday means much more than the outcome of just one game. He feels healthy and has proved to the organization through his six rehab starts that he's ready to be the front-end starter he was expected to be this spring.
"This actually means something, and I can't wait," he said. "It's been 10 months in the making, so I'm excited to get back out there."
Cubs: DeJesus good at getting things started
In 29 games as the leadoff hitter, outfielder David DeJesus has 12 hits, two home runs, eight doubles and 10 runs scored. Sveum is amazed at the way DeJesus has jumped out of the box to open games.
"It seems like, instead of [seeing 4.17 pitches per at-bat], he sees seven pitches an at-bat," Sveum said. "You're talking about one of the better all-around leadoff hitters in the game right now. The OPS is pretty close to .900, and it is over .900 against right-handed pitching. You can't ask for any more out of a leadoff guy than a .900 OPS."
Pirates: Getting it done with K's
Entering Sunday, Pirates pitchers had the second-most strikeouts in the National League, with 356, one fewer than Cincinnati. Right-hander A.J. Burnett leads all NL hurlers, with 79; the Mets' Matt Harvey is 11 behind. Only the Rangers' Yu Darvish, with 86, has more than Burnett.
Pirates relievers lead the Majors in strikeouts, with 151, five ahead of the Tigers. Mark Melancon is averaging nine strikeouts per nine innings and allowed just his second earned run of the season on Saturday, but it was the tying run that sent the game into extras. The Astros eventually won that game, 4-2.
• Pirates catcher Russell Martin leads the Majors in foiling would-be basestealers, with 10 throwouts. Since making his debut in 2006, he is the active leader, with 226 runners thrown out.
• Pittsburgh's 26-18 start to the season is the franchise's best since 1991, when it went 29-15 through the first 44 games. The club was 32-15 after 47 games.
• Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo struck out for the first time in 40 at-bats on Sunday. The last time he struck out before then was on May 7, against the Cardinals.
Ethan Asofsky is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.