Yesterday, the Chicago Cubs announced that starting pitcher Jake Arrieta suffered some “shoulder tightness” this offseason, which has pushed back his timeline for being ready to start the 2014 season. Arrieta, who turns 28 next month, was expected to be in the rotation this year as something of a high-upside experiment for the Cubs in a year when high-upside experiments seem to be among the best uses of playing time/roster spots/dollars/etc. For years, Arrieta has flashed exceptional stuff with disappointing results. The Cubs, who acquired Arrieta from the Baltimore Orioles last year in the Scott Feldman trade, hoped they could finally harness that stuff.
So, yeah, the “injury” kind of sucks.
I put injury in quotes there, because we still don’t really know if the Cubs would characterize the “tightness” as a shoulder injury, or just some kind of precursor to an injury – which is what they’re trying to avoid by slowing him down this Spring.
After revealing the issue at yesterday’s press conference, GM Jed Hoyer explained that, “We slowed him down. We sort of restarted his throwing program, but he’s going to be a little late as far as throwing bullpens and getting into games. No timetables yet, but he is throwing and he is feeling good now.”
That’s good to hear, but we still don’t really know how behind schedule he is. Rick Renteria later told the media that the Cubs aren’t currently expecting Arrieta to begin the season with the team. If he’s already throwing and feeling good, though (even if not on the mound yet), it’s possible he could be just a couple weeks behind schedule. Guys need about a month to gear up once they get back on the mound, so that’ll be your timing indicator for his return. Of course, with a great deal of pitching depth, and with Arrieta’s possible long-term importance, there isn’t going to be a need to rush him back.
Completely anecdotal thought with no data or medical knowledge to back it up: it seems like shoulder issues are either far worse than an elbow issue, or far better. In other words, when a dude has an elbow issue, it seems like there’s a reasonably high likelihood that he’s going to miss significant time (either rest or surgery). When a guy has a shoulder issue, however, it seems often to be either a two week, minor thing from which he comes back to no ill effect, or it is a career-threatening, extremely serious problem, from which he may come back not the same guy ever again.
In other words, “shoulder issue” isn’t necessarily a reason to freak out, because sometimes it’s totally minor. Sometimes elbow stuff is totally minor, too, though, I guess. This is why people shouldn’t rely on anecdotes and/or people without any medical knowledge whatsoever.
Regardless of the severity, even the hiccup is a bummer, particularly with respect to Arrieta. As a guy with a huge ceiling – but who just hadn’t been able to harness and maximize the stuff in Baltimore – Arrieta has been someone to dream on for 2014. If he finally breaks out, the Cubs will have just discovered a key rotation piece for the next four or five years. That was never the most likely scenario, but it was a reasonable possibility. Hopefully this shoulder issue is truly minor, and that scenario stays on the table.