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Cubs starter Matt Garza cleared for rehab work

(MCT) — The Cubs received some good news on Matt Garza’s elbow Thursday before signing Garza’s former Rays batterymate, Dioner Navarro, as a backup catcher.

Cubs doctors cleared Garza to begin his offseason training program after a scan of his right elbow showed it was healing normally. They’re hoping Garza is ready by spring training, which begins Feb. 9, earlier than usual because of the World Baseball Classic.

Meanwhile, Navarro, 28, agreed to a one-year, $1.75 million deal to back up Welington Castillo, who earned the starting job by outplaying Steve Clevenger after Geovany Soto was traded.

Navarro, a one-time All-Star with the Rays, spent most of last season in Triple A. He hit .290 with 12 RBIs in 24 games for the Reds. The switch-hitting catcher is the kind of veteran the Cubs were seeking to help Castillo, who lost his mentor when Soto was dealt to the Rangers in July.

Navarro was the second free-agent signing in three days. Twins starter Scott Baker agreed to a one-year, $5.5 million deal Tuesday.

As for Garza, the Cubs ace obviously was happy with the news, tweeting: “I’m cleared for takeoff!! Strap it on tight cause we are going on one helluva ride.”

Where that ride will take Garza is unknown. He’s eligible for free agency after 2013 and is expected to be shopped this summer, as he was at the July trading deadline despite being shut down with elbow soreness.

Garza was injured July 21 during a game in St. Louis and missed the rest of the season. He finished 5-7 with a 3.91 ERA in 18 starts and is arbitration-eligible after making $9.5 million in 2012. Garza was the Cubs’ most valuable trading chip until the injury, but he will have to rebuild that value before they can think about getting maximum return.

One rotation spot remains open and President Theo Epstein said the Cubs are “pursuing pitchers across the spectrum.”

“If there are sound investments out there, whether they’re big or small, we’ll pursue them and try to sign them,” he said.

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