Although the Cubs have a full five-man rotation working right now, there is no shortage of questions surrounding the group. Will Jon Lester’s peripherals break him in the second half? Will Kyle Hendricks string together more than 1 or 2 good starts in a row? Is Jose Quintana’s short-term shoulder soreness going to be a long-term problem? Is anything Mike Montgomery doing sustainable? Will Tyler Chatwood ever throw a strike again?
But the impact of those questions – or rather, the answers – would be softened considerably if the Cubs could just get their other starter, Yu Darvish, back in time to make an impact.
If you recall, Darvish was originally placed on the disabled list back in May – with right triceps tendinitis. He underwent an MRI, which scared the crap out of us at first, but ultimately revealed no structural damage. He proceeded to play catch and tease a return before the All-Star break back in June – and even managed to sneak in a few bullpen sessions, some live batting practice, a simulated game, and a rehab appearance in Low-A – but it was all for naught. Darvish didn’t feel 100% after his rehab start and the bullpen session that followed “did not go well,” so he got another medical check-up (this time from the doctor who worked with him in Texas), and was diagnosed with a right elbow impingement. Wonderful.
Just before the break, Darvish played catch and said that he hoped to throw off a mound this weekend. Optimism continued to grow after Theo Epstein was effusive in how good of a break Darvish had, but we’re not out of the woods just yet.
According to Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey, we’re still talking about “a number of weeks” until Darvish returns to action for the Cubs. “I know he was throwing back to 105 feet before we left for the break,” Hickey told 670 The Score. “I know that he came in over the break, he stayed in Chicago over the break and worked with some of the trainers there, so we’ll just see where we’re at.”
Hickey expanded on those comments by loosely estimating his return process. According to him, it takes 10-14 days after playing catch to get back on the mound. After that, you’d have to pitch off the mound “a couple times,” to build up to facing hitters. Then, you would have to throw a couple live batting practices, and then he’d need a rehab start.
Darvish reportedly played catch on July 9th, which means 10-14 days later is this weekend. So, let’s play this out. If he threw off the mound *today* he’d probably have to do it again on Monday. After that, he could throw live batting practice by the end of next week and a second one just before the end of July. That would put us at the beginning of August for his first rehab start, and he’ll likely need two or maybe three before returning to the Majors. That leaves us – at the absolute earliest – in mid-August for a return to the Majors, but the end of August is more likely.
We can be thankful that he’s feeling good and ramping back up, but there’s no doubt that this season has been mostly lost (he’s made just 8 starts so far, would be lucky to get to 16, and the results in the first set weren’t great). It’s also not the end of the world, in terms of timing.
At least now the Cubs more or less know Darvish won’t be back until at least the middle of August, they can work at the deadline assuming they won’t have much help from him at all. That doesn’t help their leverage, obviously, but I’ll take a sure-mandate with no leverage than a ton of uncertainty. To date, the Cubs have been connected to a controllable starter like Dylan Bundy, an ace like Jacob deGrom, and rental options like J.A. Happ and Nathan Eovaldi.
And if the Cubs do manage to get a significant starter at the deadline and get Darvish back, their rotation could wind up pushing Montgomery back into the bullpen and Tyler Chatwood is utilized … somehow. TBD.
It’s not like you root for your team to be working from a deficit, but if it clarifies the front office’s efforts, we very well could be looking at a stronger Cubs team come September/October than we would have otherwise. That’s awfully optimistic, but hey … it’s Friday.