Cubs activate Hector Rondon as playoff bullpen begins to take shape

Cubs activate Hector Rondon as playoff bullpen begins to take shape

MILWAUKEE — For the Cubs and Hector Rondon, September will be all about staying healthy and getting ready for October, when they believe their bullpen will be able to match up with anyone.

The Cubs activated Rondon before Tuesday night’s 12-5 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park, adding a one-time 30-save closer to help set up for Aroldis Chapman.

“I feel really good — I’m healthy right now,” said Rondon, who had been on the disabled list with a strained right triceps since Aug. 17 and allowed one run on two hits in the seventh inning Tuesday. “I feel a little stronger, too, so I’m ready to go.”

Manager Joe Maddon said Rondon wouldn’t necessarily slide back into a specific eighth-inning role or only high-leverage situations. With a 15 1/2-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the division, the Cubs have the luxury of keeping Rondon on a schedule, resting Chapman in certain save situations and not pushing Carl Edwards Jr. too hard during his rookie season.

Assuming Rondon (18 saves, 2.47 ERA) returns at full strength and Pedro Strop (21 holds, 2.89 ERA) recovers from a torn meniscus in his left knee and a strained right groin, the Cubs will have multiple options in front of Chapman, one of the game’s most intimidating closers with his 105-mph fastball.

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Right-handers Edwards and Justin Grimm would also appear to be locks for the playoff bullpen, with veteran Joe Smith on the bubble trying to bring the funk that’s allowed him to carve out a 10-year career in the big leagues.

Assuming the Cubs construct an 11-man pitching staff in a best-of-five series, Jason Hammel could be on the outside looking in during that round. The Cubs have left-handed (Mike Montgomery, Travis Wood, Rob Zastryzny) and right-handed (Trevor Cahill) swingmen who can throw multiple innings.

“It depends on how many you want to keep,” Maddon said. “You may actually end up with less pitchers and more (position) players in a shorter series. It’s possible.

“When you get to that point, I think you really have to consider who you’re playing and what the composition of that team looks like and all the matchups (that could) occur. We’ll have a lot of difficult decisions to make based on the versatility and how good a lot of our guys are. (But) you got plenty of time to worry about stuff like that. (And) I’m not worried about it.”

Why Jose Quintana’s thumb injury is a gut punch to Cubs’ bullpen

Why Jose Quintana’s thumb injury is a gut punch to Cubs’ bullpen

When Cubs manager David Ross met via Zoom earlier this week in his first chat with beat writers since March, he raved about how ready his five-man starting rotation appeared to be and — more important, he said — how much he liked sixth man Alec Mills as a swingman who could provide important length in the bullpen.

All of a sudden, with the news of starter Jose Quintana’s thumb injury to his pitching hand, Mills is the presumptive fill-in for the rotation. And just like that a bullpen full of new faces and uncertainty is a man down before summer training camp even starts.

The Cubs don’t even have all their COVID-19 intake test results back, and an old-fashioned, off-field, dish-washing injury is the first threat to the sweet part of what looked like potentially a short but sweet 2020 season.

With only 60 games on the schedule, bullpens around baseball already figured to be disproportionate difference makers for success in a season too short to take the traditional month to figure out roles or to reconfigure through trades and other acquisitions.

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It looked like an especially big challenge to a first-year manager such as Ross.

Rookie Adbert Alzolay, who had mixed results in a brief debut last summer, could be in play to move up a notch and play a contributing role as a long man, with a handful of 2020 newcomers also in the mix to stretch out for possible long roles.

Quintana, who required five stitches to close a cut suffered while washing dishes Saturday at home in Miami, underwent “microscopic surgery” on the left hand Monday to further determine the extent of the injury, at which point a cut to a “digital sensory nerve” was discovered and repaired.

The Cubs said the plan is for him to remain shut down for two weeks before resuming any throwing and then be re-evaluated. That likely pushes his debut in a best-case scenario into at least mid-August. 

But the uncertainty at the outset and the sensitive nature of the area of injury suggests his already short season could be in jeopardy with any setback or adjustment to the timeline.

The Cubs open training camp Friday at Wrigley Field with the season scheduled to start July 23 or 24.


Cubs' José Quintana undergoes thumb surgery, likely to miss start of season

Cubs' José Quintana undergoes thumb surgery, likely to miss start of season

Cubs starter José Quintana will likely start the season on the injured list and his status is in doubt after suffering a thumb injury at home.

The Cubs announced Thursday Quintana suffered a laceration on his left thumb last Saturday while washing dishes at home in Miami. It required five stitches, and the 31-year-old underwent microscopic surgery on Thursday morning in Chicago.

The procedure identified a lacerated digital sensory nerve, which was surgically repaired.

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Quintana is expected to resume his throwing program in about two weeks, the Cubs said, and a further determination will be made for his expected time on the shelf. 

Based on Opening Day being July 23 or 24, Quintana will likely miss at least the early stages of the abbreviated 60-game 2020 season. 

More to come on