Latest setback ends Morrow's 2019 season
Club likely to buy out final year of right-hander's contract
CHICAGO -- There was a moment last week when Cubs manager Joe Maddon allowed himself to entertain the idea that Brandon Morrow might complete his comeback before the end of this season. The former closer had faced hitters at the team's Arizona complex, and the feedback was promising.
"It sounded like he was doing pretty good," Maddon said. "And then it just didn't want to cooperate."
Prior to Wednesday's game against the Giants, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein announced that Morrow was done for the season following another setback with his right arm. Morrow, who has been on the injured list since Opening Day, is scheduled to see specialist Dr. Neal ElAttrache on Monday.
This likely serves as the disappointing conclusion to an injury-plagued run for Morrow with the Cubs, who signed him to a two-year, $21 million contract two winters ago. That deal includes a $12 million team option for the 2020 season, but the $3 million buyout will be the probable outcome this offseason.
"We were pretty confident that he was going to pitch at a really high level when he was out there," Epstein said. "And he did the first half last year. I don't know. I look back, and maybe we should've had even more conservative sort of guidelines with him or maybe there's nothing we could do. It's impossible to say, you know?
"Obviously, he's a guy with significant injury history, which makes it a calculated risk when you sign somebody like that. You sort of know -- how good he was -- you know you're going to get quality when he's out there, but there's a risk of not getting the quantity. And that burned us for the last year and a half, and that's on me."
Last season, Morrow spun a 1.47 ERA with 31 strikeouts, nine walks and 22 saves in 35 appearances and 30 2/3 innings. He was shelved for the season on July 19 last year and underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow in November. Morrow built back up to a bullpen session before the end of Spring Training, but the righty encountered a series of setbacks throughout this season.
The 35-year-old Morrow was diagnosed with radial tunnel syndrome in July and underwent a procedure to decompress the radial nerve in the arm on July 29. Epstein said a "likely next step" for Morrow this time would be a radial nerve release and decompression surgery.
"He certainly worked really hard in an attempt to come back," Epstein said, "and tried a lot of different techniques and procedures, and just wasn't able to get over the hump where he could sustain a fill exertion and progress past live BPs towards a rehab stint. So we feel bad for him [and] feel bad for us that he wasn't able to contribute this year."
• The Cubs have dealt with a series of setbacks -- including the loss of Morrow -- involving their bullpen this season. Epstein was quick to point to Tuesday's win over the Giants as an example of how some things have gone right. Lefty Kyle Ryan and rookie righty Rowan Wick served as the setup men to closer Craig Kimbrel (signed in June).
"Last night's game sort of like paints the picture for you guys," Epstein said on Wednesday. "We knew we'd need guys to develop in Triple-A and come up and help us, and that's happened. And then we knew we'd have to go outside [to add help]. And Kimbrel obviously looked really good last night throwing the ninth."
• All-Star catcher Willson Contreras (10-day IL, right hamstring) was in the outfield before Wednesday's game working through a series of running and agility drills. Contreras also played catch. Epstein said the catcher continues to make progress, but the team has not yet circled a date for a Minor League rehab assignment.
"He's in what our trainers are calling the 'aggressive strengthening phase' of his rehab," Epstein said. "You're going to see him on the field a lot more the next few days and then hopefully soon he'll be progressing to baseball activities, but he's not on the cusp of starting a rehab assignment."
• Before taking questions during his daily press conference, Maddon made a point to wish Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt a happy birthday. The chaplain for the Loyola-Chicago men's basketball team turned 100 years old on Wednesday.
"When it comes to nuns, sisters, I grew up with them and I have so much respect," Maddon said. "And how she really represents that university is really cool, too. Happy birthday, sister, and when you get a chance, come out and see us. And I still owe you a ride with the basketball team in the '85 station wagon."