Injured Cubs Pitcher Plans: Steele, Thompson, Alzolay

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Injured Cubs Pitcher Plans: Steele, Thompson, Alzolay

Chicago Cubs

This area of pitching on the Chicago Cubs has evolved so much over the past 12 months that it can be easy to forget that, at this time last year, we almost never mentioned Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson, or Adbert Alzolay in isolation. The trio was far more routinely discussed together as guys who could compete for a starting job the following season, could be depth starting options as necessary, and/or could serve as a multi-inning relief weapon. It was pretty hard to separate the group as of last year, and since they all could fill the same kinds of roles, it made sense to discuss them together.

Obviously things shifted since then, with Alzolay hitting the IL in Spring Training with a serious lat strain, Steele breaking out quickly into a full-time starting role, and Thompson seeing a mix of success when starting and also in multi-inning relief. Their future roles will once again be a topic for offseason discussion, with Steele cemented into the rotation (in my opinion), Thompson valuable in both roles depending on how the offseason shakes out, and Alzolay a total wild card.

In the meantime, all three pitchers find themselves together once again, albeit not where any of them would want to be: they’re all on the Injured List.

The better news, though, is that all could be back with the big league Cubs sometime this month, but the long-term focus is dictating the planning, rather than feeling any kind of rush, since Steele and Thompson are already over previous career innings highs, and Alzolay’s situation is just about getting to full health.

Cubs President Jed Hoyer spoke to those situations this week, and you can read his comments here at NBC and here at the Tribune, among other places.

On Steele and Thompson, each on the IL with lower-back issues, Hoyer is not ready to say their seasons are over, but he also preaches caution.

“It’s important that they’re healthy going into the offseason,” Hoyer said of the two, per NBC. “In terms of pitching more, that’s totally health-related. They’ve both had really good seasons, and we’d love to have them come back, but we’re not going to force it ….

“If it feels like it’s natural and easy that they can ramp back up and get back to the level they were pitching at, we’ll do it. But we’re not going to force it,” Hoyer continued. “If there’s any trepidation at all, the focus has got to be getting those guys into the offseason healthy and ready to start their offseason conditioning. Neither is an injury we’re concerned about at all. But we don’t want to ramp them up too quickly and throw them out there for no reason. We can just have them go into the offseason healthy.”

Honestly, I wouldn’t have much of an issue if either or both were shut down from here, again, because it’s already been such a long and successful season for them as developing pitchers. I know the Cubs hadn’t explicitly (publicly) planned to shut down Steele or Thompson, and you don’t want an “injury” to be the reason their season ends early, but that’s kind of just semantics. It was already at least a CONSIDERATION to ramp down their usage. It had to be.

I’m sure each guy wants to come back this year for at least another outing or three, but it’s no real concern if they don’t.

Speaking of which, if the two do not come back, then there will be more innings to be covered internally, not only by a guy like Wade Miley (who just returned from the IL) or by a guy like Hayden Wesneski (a prospect call-up), but also by a guy like Adbert Alzolay (a guy returning from the IL who also still has a bit of a prospect-y feel to him, in terms of experience).

Alzolay made his latest rehab start last night for the Iowa Cubs, going 3.0 innings, allowing 1 earned run on 3 hits and no walks, while striking out 2. He threw 37 pitches, which seems to be about as stretched out as the Cubs are going to get him this year (which is fine!). The outing was Alzolay’s fourth rehab appearance in total, and I would think he’s close to a decision point for the Cubs.

To that end, Hoyer wasn’t tipping his hand about Alzolay’s return to the big leagues, but I did find his comments to the Tribune interesting.

“We’ll know a lot more after (Tuesday’s outing), so we can talk about that tomorrow.”

Any chance the Cubs were viewing it as, potentially, Alzolay’s final rehab outing before returning to the big league team *IF* he felt OK throughout the appearance and the next day? Sure seems possible.

You’d love to get Alzolay back for a few weeks’ worth of multi-inning appearances, letting him show the organization – and himself – that he’s totally healthy and effective in advance of the offseason. It would be useful information for the Cubs to have, but also probably useful in ensuring Alzolay can have a normal offseason program and ramp-up to Spring Training next year.

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.