Cubs' rotation depth facing first test with Taillon out

April 21st, 2023

CHICAGO -- The news that arrived from the Cubs on Thursday afternoon would have felt like a devastating blow a year ago.  was placed on the injured list, removing a trusted veteran from Chicago's rolling rotation.

Losing Taillon for any length of time is hardly ideal, but the North Siders are now better protected from such setbacks due to improved depth. They know someone like  -- promoted from Triple-A Iowa to start in a 6-2 loss to the Dodgers on Thursday night at Wrigley Field -- is not going to be flooded with jitters or intimidation. There is also some comfort in knowing veteran  is coming soon.

"The big thing for me," Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said, "is we talk about how many guys it's going to take to get through a season. Obviously you'd love to get as deep in the season as you possibly can before you need to start dipping into that depth.

"But we have it, so we're going to absolutely utilize it and make sure that we give Jamo the time he needs to get back right."

Signed to a four-year deal worth $68 million over the offseason, Taillon had a left groin injury flare while playing catch on Wednesday in Oakland. The big right-hander was placed on the 15-day IL and the Cubs recalled Assad. Still a rookie, Assad impressed down the stretch last season and won an Opening Day bullpen job after a strong spring showing both in Arizona and with Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic.

Assad will continue to reside in that next-man-up realm for the Cubs, who headed into Thursday with the National League's best rotation ERA (2.66). The starting staff has been led by (0.75 ERA in four starts) and (1.44 ERA in four starts), with , and Taillon each navigating some early-season ups and downs. The group as a whole has helped fuel the team's 11-7 start.

Assad is still in the process of building up his innings, but gave the Cubs three frames before the bullpen took over. Veteran  allowed a grand slam to James Outman in the ninth to swing the game L.A.’s way.

With an off-day looming Monday, Chicago has the option of keeping everyone in order, or leaning on its front four for two turns before needing a fifth starter again on April 29. Taillon will be eligible to return on May 2.

"Javy's one of those guys that we feel like can come in and fill this hole and this void for a minute," Cubs manager David Ross said. "Hopefully it's a short stint for Jamo and we'll assess the future of the rotation after that. But Javy's a really good pitcher and we've got a lot of confidence in him."

The 33-year-old Hendricks -- the last active piece of the Cubs' 2016 World Series team -- was shut down over the final three months of last season due to a capsular tear in his right shoulder. He used the offseason and Spring Training to recover and map out a conservative comeback plan.

Part of Hendricks' focus throughout the process was an altered arm path -- the goal being a more efficient delivery to avoid a similar injury. The veteran righty also implemented drills with the aim of regaining some velocity. Hendricks will always rely on command and deception, but the Cubs saw a drop-off that impacted his effectiveness.

"We wanted to push his velocity up as much as possible," Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. "When he was winning ERA titles and those things, he was touching 90 and then it had come down. He's not Mason Miller throwing 102 mph, but when he throws 88-90, his changeup is much more effective."

Hoyer said Hendricks has touched 90 mph in recent outings in Arizona, where he has been working through bullpen sessions, live BP workouts and simulated games. The righty is scheduled for a three-inning sim game on Saturday before potentially beginning a Minor League rehab assignment.

Hottovy noted that the improved depth has helped the Cubs have "the confidence to make the right decisions" when it comes to handling injury setbacks. The deep MLB staff allowed Hendricks to avoid pushing to return faster than necessary. Taillon can go through his rehab with the same mental safety net, as well.

"Last year we didn't have enough depth to withstand [injuries]," Hoyer said. "This year, we have guys like Javy. Hopefully Kyle comes back soon. Hopefully we've built up some more depth. Injuries can never be an excuse, right? So you've just gotta have guys ready to fill those spots."