Strop injury adds wrinkle to Cubs' closer situation

Maddon optimistic veteran righty can still be ready by Opening Day

March 13th, 2019

MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs are already down one closer. The club is hoping not to be down a pair when Opening Day arrives.

On Tuesday, Cubs manager Joe Maddon announced that reliever is currently dealing with a mild right hamstring strain, which was confirmed by an MRI exam. Strop is still able to play catch, but the team will keep the right-hander off a mound and hold him out of game-related drills over the next week.

"According to the MRI, it was like barely noticeable, so we don't think it's going to be anything horribly long," Maddon said. "But we don't know for sure. We'd like to think we're going to be able to get him ready for the beginning of the season. If not, maybe shortly thereafter."

That is especially true due to the fact that the Cubs are also without closer Brandon Morrow (right elbow) at the moment. Morrow is building up his arm strength in a long-toss program and should be back on a mound within the next couple of weeks, but the right-hander will likely miss about a month to start the regular season. With Morrow sidelined, Strop would be the primary closer.

If Strop is not ready in time for Opening Day, then Maddon will likely mix and match in the eighth and ninth innings even more. Steve Cishek, Brad Brach and Carl Edwards Jr. represent three potential closing alternatives with or without Strop available. Maddon has been reluctant to apply the label of "closer" on Strop in the name of late-inning flexibility.

Maddon noted that Strop felt something in the hamstring on the final pitch of his Cactus League appearance on Saturday against the Angels. It marked only the second spring outing for the 33-year-old Strop, as the Cubs have taken a conservative approach to his preseason workload. That said, Strop only worked in three spring games last year and went on to post a 2.26 ERA in 60 games (59 2/3 innings) for Chicago last season.

Strop missed time in September with a left hamstring injury.

"It's something we caught quickly," Maddon said of the recent setback. "Again, I can't emphasize enough, it doesn't look bad, but you don't push a guy like that right now."

Tough night for Chatwood

Right-hander Tyler Chatwood's performance this spring had been one of the Cubs' promising story lines. He tweaked his delivery over the offseason, took it into Cactus League play and had solid results out of the chute. Prior to Tuesday night's start, which went awry for Chatwood, Maddon again raved about the pitcher's spring showing.

"He's been outstanding," Maddon said. "He's checked all the boxes, man. He made that little adjustment. It's a cleaner delivery. He knows where the ball is going, and it's been going there with tremendous movement, and the velocity's been outstanding."

The control Chatwood displayed in his first three Cactus League appearances abandoned him against the Reds, though. Over 1 1/3 innings, the righty allowed four runs (two earned) on two hits with three walks and one strikeout. Chatwood threw 47 pitches (20 strikes), including 34 in a seven-batter stretch in the second. Both unearned runs came via a throwing error by Chatwood, who fired the ball over the head of catcher Victor Caratini while trying to start an inning-ending 1-2-3 double play with the bases loaded and the game scoreless.

The Cubs lost, 12-3, in one of the few Cactus League games that was able to go a full nine innings on a rainy day across the Valley of the Sun.

Worth noting

• Left-hander Jose Quintana was scheduled to throw a simulated game on Tuesday afternoon, but rain forced the pitcher to take the workout into the indoor batting cages at the Cubs' complex. Quintana still completed a 60-pitch, four-inning workout and continued to focus on his changeup.

"I used it in different situations -- most of the time out of the stretch," said Quintana, who is slated to start next against the Rockies on Sunday. "It went good. Next time, we'll go up with my pitch count. My arm feels strong, so it was good."

• Lefty Mike Montgomery, who was slowed at the start of spring by discomfort in his throwing shoulder, made his Cactus League debut on Tuesday. In two innings against Cincinnati, the left-hander allowed two runs (one earned) on three hits, including a solo homer to Kyle Farmer. Montgomery had logged a handful of innings against batters in a pair of simulated games over the past eight days.

Up next

Left-hander Jon Lester is scheduled to start for the Cubs on Wednesday, when the A's host Chicago in a 3:05 p.m. CT Cactus League tilt at HoHoKam Stadium. Lester, who is the Cubs' Opening Day starter, has 10 strikeouts, three walks and a 5.19 ERA in 8 2/3 innings (three starts) this spring. Oakland will send righty Mike Fiers to the mound.