PITTSBURGH — Given everything that’s at stake for the Cubs in the second half, Dexter Fowler has decided to skip playing in the All-Star Game, not wanting to rush back from a strained right hamstring or risk further injury.
Fowler — who earned his first career All-Star selection and would have been a starting National League outfielder through the fan vote — started (and ended) his rehab assignment on Friday as the designated hitter at Class-A South Bend. The Cubs framed this as common sense — and not a direct response to a setback.
“He didn’t reinjure it or anything,” manager Joe Maddon said Saturday at PNC Park. “He just felt like he couldn’t do it. That was part of the conversation before we talked about going out: If you feel anything at all, please shut it down. We don’t want to accelerate it or make it worse.
“The word I got back was that he didn’t feel anything other than the fact that he knew he could not push it.”
Fowler, who’s been sidelined since June 18, initially downplayed this as a one-week issue that only led to the disabled list because the Cubs shouldn’t play shorthanded. Fowler was supposed to test it out and play center field for South Bend on Saturday, but the Cubs scrapped that plan (without giving much of a timeline for his return).
Fowler will still travel to San Diego to participate in the All-Star festivities, and the leadoff guy earned it by hitting .290 with seven homers, 19 doubles, three triples and a .398 on-base percentage through 64 games.
But the optics of playing in a made-for-TV exhibition — before rejoining a first-place team in a pennant race — would have been bad for a player positioned to hit the free-agent market again this winter. And an organization that doesn’t want to look like it’s running a country club and has to protect assets.
“It’s awkward only based on the timing of the whole thing,” Maddon said. “It would not have bothered me at all if he was well, because that would have accelerated him coming back to us on the other side.”
Major League Baseball announced three injury replacements for the NL squad on Saturday, with Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jay Bruce, Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Starling Marte and San Diego Padres pitcher Drew Pomeranz subbing in for Fowler and New York Mets stars Yoenis Cespedes and Noah Syndergaard.
Seven Cubs made the All-Star team, but it’s become clearer what Fowler’s patience, pop and athleticism mean to this lineup. The Cubs lost four of their next five series after his injury and will need him in what’s becoming a tighter division race.