Jake Arrieta will have to wait a little longer to put the Cubs on his back once again.
Arrieta threw from flat ground for the second time Tuesday and while he felt good recovering from an injured hamstring, the Cubs have yet to schedule an official bullpen for their dynamic veteran right-hander.
That means Cubs fans shouldn't expect Arrieta to get the ball in the all-important showdown with the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field this weekend.
"There's still some time involved here," Joe Maddon said.
The Cubs woke up Tuesday morning clinging to a two-game lead over the Cardinals in the National League Central and up 2.5 games on the Milwaukee Brewers, who just came into Wrigleyville last weekend and swept the defending champs.
The Cubs are currently tossing their three southpaws (Jose Quintana, Jon Lester, Mike Montgomery) against the New York Mets this week and John Lackey is penciled in for Friday's opener against the Cardinals. After that, the Cubs rotation has not yet been announced, though Kyle Hendricks will certainly slot in either Saturday or Sunday.
That led to a reporter wondering aloud during Maddon's pregame session Tuesday if Arrieta could possibly return for the weekend.
But it's a tricky situation given this is Arrieta's back leg, where he pushes off the mound to start his motion toward homeplate. And the Cubs want him to throw a full bullpen first and since that wasn't even scheduled yet on Tuesday, the likelihood of Arrieta pitching this weekend is pretty slim.
"I don't know," Maddon said. "We're running out of time for this time [through the rotation]. So maybe the next time through. I really don't know.
"In my mind's eye, I'm playing it like he won't. I think you have to do that first of all. And then if he can, wonderful."
The 2015 NL Cy Young winner wasn't quite turning in another superhuman second half for the Cubs when he went down with a hamstring injury last week in Pittsburgh, but he was in the midst of a dominant stretch. From the All-Star Break until he limped off the mound against the Pirates Sept. 4, Arrieta had gone 6-2 with a 1.98 ERA in 10 starts.
Arrieta's injury put the Cubs in a hole in that one game in Pittsburgh as he lasted just 2.1 innings in a game they were eventually routed 12-0. Had he not gotten injured, Arrieta would've been slated to start against the Brewers last weekend and on track to get the ball against the Cardinals this coming weekend.
In his stead, Montgomery will continue to find an opportunity in the starting rotation.
But even if Arrieta can return shortly after the Cardinals series, will his complex mechanics be near the run he was on pre-injury or will the time off have affected him?