After injuring his thumb on the eve of Summer Camp, getting surgery to repair a nerve issue, and then building his arm back up, Jose Quintana is finally ready to return to the Cubs.
The question now is: in what role?
Manager David Ross told Cubs.com that Quintana is ready to go now after a two-inning bullpen session on Friday, but the club is still discussion exactly how they’ll bring him back. Starting the Cubs’ game on Tuesday in Detroit is a possibility, as is heading to the bullpen. Undoubtedly a factor in the calculation? The Cubs have a doubleheader on August 29, but an off-day on August 27, so they can try to coordinate arms this week to have two actual starting pitchers available for that doubleheader day.
Adding into that calculus is the status of Tyler Chatwood, who threw a bullpen this weekend to test out his back. He also a possibility for that open Tuesday start. Then, of course, you’ve got Adbert Alzolay, who flashed clear big-league-starter stuff last week against the Cardinals.
For me, if Chatwood is good to go for Tuesday, I say you start him and put Quintana in the bullpen. Heck, even if Chatwood isn’t ready, I’d be mighty tempted to let Adbert Alzolay take that start and still have Quintana available out of the bullpen. (If the Cubs wanted to have some real fun, they could actually go with tandem “starters” for tomorrow’s game against the Tigers – Quintana and one of the righties? – which would then put both of those pitchers on schedule to start the doubleheader day against the Reds later in the week. You could then, instead, have Alec Mills start on Tuesday against the Tigers. Ope, but see the update below.)
But back to Quintana as a reliever. We’ve seen how valuable multi-inning “reliever/quasi-starters” can be for years with the Brewers. When four of your starting pitchers are righties, you can really give the other team a totally different look, quickly, if necessary to make a switch in the 3rd or 4th or 5th. What if a guy like Mills is solid going through the lineup twice, but you’re at your best when you can take him out after that, even if it’s only the 4th or 5th inning? What if a guy like Chatwood is ready to start on Tuesday, but because he’s missed so much time, you want to limit him to 60 pitches? What if it’s Alzolay, and you want to limit his exposure?
Moreover, in a bullpen with only Kyle Ryan available from the left side, it just makes so much sense to have another lefty available. Sometimes, it could be those long outings, but hey, who’s to say Quintana can’t succeed in this weird year as just a fastball/curveball one-inning reliever?
Of course, if a longer-term injury issue pops up, you can move Quintana back into the rotation as necessary. But for these near-term decisions, I’m liking the idea of having Quintana available out of the pen. Heck, the Cubs can replace Kris Bryant on the roster today (they IL’d him yesterday without a corresponding move), so if Quintana were ready to go, the Cubs could just put him in the bullpen immediately.
Whatever the plan is, it’s going to be flexible. And we’ll get initial word soon enough, because the Cubs will have to announce their rotation for the Tigers series, which beings tomorrow.
INSTANT UPDATE as I was about to click publish: the Cubs have announced it’ll be Mills tomorrow, TBD on Tuesday, and then Lester on Wednesday. So it’s all still an open question for that Tuesday game.