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02/17/12 3:37 PM EST

Garza feels late in reporting to camp early

Cubs pitcher 'in better shape,' impressed by spring arrivals

MESA, Ariz. -- Matt Garza arrived in Arizona at least two weeks before pitchers and catchers have to report for Spring Training, and the Cubs pitcher said he felt he was late.

"Look at everybody here," said Garza, one of the early birds at Fitch Park on Friday as players prep for the official opening of camp.

Pitchers and catchers will have their first workout Sunday afternoon, with position players holding their first session on Feb. 24. On Friday, Kerry Wood and Rodrigo Lopez each threw off the mound, hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo conducted early sessions in the cages, and Darwin Barney, Bryan LaHair and Josh Vitters were among those practicing on the half field.

Not many players spend the offseason in Chicago because of the weather, but Garza did. He started his training at Northwestern University, then switched to another place in the suburbs. He's been working on his hitting so he can be more of a factor at the plate.

It was a fairly mild winter in Chicago and Garza (10-10, 3.32 ERA in 2011) took advantage of it. He went sledding with his three children and spent a lot of time outdoors.

"When it did snow, I thought it was fun driving in it," said Garza, 28, a California native. "I have a Range Rover, so I thought I actually get to put this to the test."

The right-hander said he's in his best shape and eager to build on his second half. Before the All-Star break, Garza was 4-7 with a 4.26 ERA in 16 starts. In the second half, he was 6-3 with a 2.45 ERA in 15 games.

"I learned a lot from the second half, and I remember what that feeling is like and I want to get out here and duplicate it," Garza said. "Right now, my body is better than when I've come in before. I'm in better shape, things are stronger. It's just been a great offseason."

One other matter he took care of was his contract, avoiding arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $9.5 million deal with the Cubs. Could a long-term deal be in the works?

"I don't talk about that," Garza said. "That's between my agent and myself, and my agent and the front office. If they want to contact us, whatever way it works, is great. My main focus is getting ready for April 5, and having fun again."

He will have his third manager in as many seasons in Dale Sveum.

"The team is going to reflect the manager," Garza said. "With him out here devoting his time, away from his family, I think players will get the hint that this guy wants to win. You've got a guy like that, a guy who runs out here non-stop and doesn't even talk -- he's just business, business, business, work, work, work. I'm excited."

What kind of team will the Cubs be? Garza said all they have to do is play hard for nine innings.

"You play hard for nine, and that will determine your identity," he said. "You can be scrappy, you can be rollovers, you can be whatever. You play hard for nine, and you'll develop your identity.

"I think we'll be a bunch of scrappers. We don't have the big-name power guys -- we have [Alfonso Soriano] in the middle of the lineup and we have [Starlin] Castro, who is going to be a great hitter and an even better shortstop this season. We have a lot of set guys, like role guys. But we're going to be scrappy -- and that's the best way to play.

"If you have a big bopper and that big bopper doesn't come through, it won't be any good. If you've got a bunch of guys who hit and run, squeeze, bunt, sac, move them over, get them in, I think that's what wins you ballgames. Guys will pay a lot of attention to detail. Little things count up here. It's going to be a huge asset for us."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.