In the moment when a player is injured, you can’t know what impact will follow. Maybe he’ll be back tomorrow. Maybe next month. But maybe someone will step up while he’s down and perform better than expected. Maybe it’ll be two months, and a major hole will be exposed.
When Neil Ramirez started barely touching 90 mph on April 15 against the Reds, you knew something was wrong. He was pulled from the game, evaluated, and diagnosed with shoulder inflammation. That’s on the less-worrisome side of shoulder injuries, but it’s still a shoulder – it seems to be the most dangerous part of a pitcher’s arm – and Ramirez had been through shoulder issues before. A lengthy absence seemed likely.
How would the Cubs fare? Well, at first, terribly. The bullpen was in crisis mode, with Justin Grimm already out, Hector Rondon not quite looking like Hector Rondon, and Jason Motte still working things out. What had once looked like an extreme strength for the Cubs was now a weakness so pervasive that the Cubs had to go with eight relievers, and haven’t really ever gone back.
But then things seemed to turn – maybe guys started getting things right, or maybe it’s just baseball’s natural ebb and flow – and the Cubs’ bullpen has been pretty great for nearly a month (last night’s Travis Wood ugliness notwithstanding).
So, then, the feelings upon learning that, after a long rehab, Neil Ramirez is returning tonight (Cubs.com), are mixed. Obviously it’s great to have a healthy Ramirez back, because, when he’s on, he’s one of the Cubs’ best bullpen options, regardless of who else is out there. On the other hand, it would have felt best to have him around two months ago.*
Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it’s good that a guy coming off of two months on the shelf with a shoulder injury isn’t expected to be the savior of the bullpen. Further, the Cubs can more easily monitor and restrict (as necessary) his usage to keep him at an optimum level of performance.
It’ll be nice to see him back out there. Hopefully he’s got his good fastball and sharp slider back, and the Cubs can move toward having the kind of overloaded lock-down bullpen they envisioned in the offseason.
We’ll see how the Cubs accommodate Ramirez on the roster. It’s possible Donn Roach, who was a spot starter yesterday and didn’t overwhelm, could be optioned back to AAA Iowa. If it doesn’t look like Tsuyoshi Wada will be able to make his next start, he could be sent to the disabled list. (And Roach could also be sent out, and the Cubs would then decide who takes the 5th starter’s spot the next time through when that day approaches.)
*(It’s probably going to feel the same when all of Jorge Soler, Javy Baez, Mike Olt, and Tommy La Stella become available within a month of each other after a long stretch of a really rough bench hampering the Cubs. Even having just one of those guys healthy for the past month would have been a huge help.)