“They think I’m rushing,” Pedro Strop told reporters on Monday before the Cubs and Pirates kicked things off, per Cubs.com. “Now [that they saw me], they know what I’m talking about.”
[Brett: See? Told you. Special healing abilities.]
Strop (left knee) is but one of several Cubs pitchers working their way back from an injury with some good news to report.
In addition to Strop, the list of pitchers includes starter John Lackey (right shoulder), setup man Hector Rondon (right triceps), and reliever Joe Smith (left hamstring).
And the good news is that each of them has made some relatively notable progress in the past few days, with many expected to return to the big league club within the next couple of weeks. Even better, with rosters set to expand in just a few days (September 1), no corresponding roster move or crunch should make their returns more complicated than necessary. So then, let’s check in on where each of them stands and see how soon they might return to Chicago.
Swinging back around to Strop and his comments, my initial reaction is that the Cubs might be right. If you recall, Strop was placed on the disabled list back on August 11, and was projected to miss four to six weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. Well, it hasn’t even been three weeks yet, and he’s already thrown 25 pitches in an official bullpen session (Cubs.com) – showing off his Wolverine-esq recovery rate.
Even if he’s rushing, I can’t imagine that the Cubs (what with their 14.0 game lead in the NL Central) will allow Strop to return until he’s 100% ready. He’s simply too crucial to their chances of winning in the post season and simply isn’t needed all that much right now. Through 43.2 innings pitched this season, Strop has collected a 2.89 ERA, with even stronger peripherals (2.87 FIP, 2.61 xFIP). He’s striking out a career high 32.4% of batters faced and walking a career low 7.5%. While Strop has pretty much always been excellent with the Cubs, he’s been his strongest here in 2016. Getting him back at 100% is more important than getting him back as soon as possible.
But don’t get me wrong, his quick recovery is still very good news, and he isn’t alone.
Strop’s former back-end bullpen mate, Hector Rondon is also making nice progress, according to Carrie Muskat at Cubs.com). But his return date is still unclear. Rondon, you’ll recall, is rehabbing a strained right triceps which almost didn’t require a full DL stint. But with an enormous lead in the division and the importance of his health in the playoffs, the Cubs decided to play it safe and slow with him as well.
Through the same number of innings as Strop (43.2 IP), Rondon is having himself another great season. He’s worked his way to a 2.47 ERA, thanks to a ridiculous 8.50 K/BB ratio (31.1% K-rate, 3.7% BB-rate). In addition, opposing batters are hitting just .185 off Rondon, and he’s given up just 12 earned runs throughout the entire season. Together with Strop and Aroldis Chapman, Rondon is one of the most important (and likely to be leaned on come October) members of the bullpen.
A slightly less critical, but still potentially important reliever, Joe Smith is also working his way back from a hamstring injury, pitching an inning in relief last night at Triple-A Iowa. Giving up just one hit and no runs, Smith needed 24 pitches (although 17 went for strikes) to get through his inning of work. Smith never quite figured it out with the Cubs in his 3.2 innings from August 3 to August 16, but if he can return healthy and ready to go (as in, showing that the injury was the issue all along), he could plausibly still sneak his way into the bullpen discussion come October.
Lastly, moving away from the relievers, starter John Lackey is getting close to a return. According to multiple reports, Lackey threw a bullpen session yesterday that went well, but will need at least one more before making his return to the rotation.
Lackey, you’ll recall, is working his way back from a right shoulder strain, but is feeling good and nearing a return. If he doesn’t experience any unexpected soreness when he reports to the park today, according to ESPN, a second bullpen session will be scheduled later in the week. Should that go well, too, he’s likely to be reactivated and reclaim his spot in the rotation (although, as we know, the Cubs may still elect to use a six-man rotation throughout the month).
Lackey hasn’t been quite as good this season as he was last year with the Cardinals, but he is strongly expected to be a member of the Cubs playoff rotation. His experience and leadership there could be invaluable. On the year, Lackey has worked to a 3.41 ERA (3.72 FIP), with the best strikeout rate (24.9%) of his career.
The Cubs are inching closer to a full-strength roster, but there is still plenty of time to get there.