The Cubs are keeping an open mind and running through different scenarios with Jake Arrieta and Addison Russell, getting ready to drop their Cy Young Award winner and All-Star shortstop back into a pennant race.
Arrieta tested his strained right hamstring on Thursday at Wrigley Field, throwing 25 pitches off a mound and anticipating a full bullpen session on Saturday as the next step.
The fluid plans revolve around how Arrieta – who experienced a Grade 1 strain on Labor Day – feels on a daily basis. But the Cubs have targeted next week at Miller Park and a stretch where they will play eight straight road games against the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals.
“I feel really good,” Arrieta said at his locker after a 14-6 win over the New York Mets. “We’ve been cautious. But at the same time, we’ve been doing a lot of work each and every day, bouncing back really well. There’s been no carryover as far as soreness or tightness.
“Still want to be smart about it. But I feel like I’m pretty close to being able to take it back out there and help the guys out.”
Reincorporating Arrieta on Sept. 21 in Milwaukee would allow him to make two weighted starts against the two teams chasing the Cubs in the National League Central – and be available for Game 162 if that becomes a must-win situation against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field.
Arrieta – who is 6-2 with a 1.98 ERA in 10 starts since the All-Star break – could be a game-changer in the division race if he is able to lock in his mechanics again and generate the same explosiveness off his right leg.
“It would be nice to get three more (starts),” Arrieta said. “There’s not going to be any effects as far as losing strength or endurance. It really hasn’t been that long. I was only out for about four or five days without playing catch, and that’s kind of standard. There are times where I don’t throw in between starts throughout the year, just to save some bullets and be strong the next time out.
“We’re in a really good spot. I feel like this actually could be a blessing in disguise, as far as getting a little time off and not having to rush this back. Because if this were to happen today, it would be a different story.”
In terms of instant impact, there are lower expectations for Russell, who has been sidelined since early August with a strained right foot/plantar fasciitis and watched Javier Baez emerge as a dynamic big-league shortstop.
Manager Joe Maddon said Russell is “very, very close” to being activated. With expanded rosters – and without a minor-league rehab option – the Cubs could use Russell sooner rather than later and ease him back in as a pinch-hitting threat during this weekend’s showdown against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field.