Cubs

Cubs in wait-and-see mode with LaHair, Castillo

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Cubs in wait-and-see mode with LaHair, Castillo

MESA, Ariz. Bryan LaHair has waited years for this opportunity, to experience Opening Day in the big leagues for the first time, and now he has to deal with nagging back issues.

The Cubs will have LaHair take batting practice during Wednesdays workout at Wrigley Field and monitor how he responds after sitting out the final four games in the Cactus League. Even if the first baseman is scratched from Thursdays lineup, manager Dale Sveum expects him to be available sometime this weekend against the Washington Nationals.

Hes getting better every day, so well just see with the treatment, Sveum said before Tuesdays game against the Milwaukee Brewers. I dont think its a DL thing or anything like that, because hes got pretty good range of motion as far as rotation and all that. Its just the shooting pain.

I think hes had this before, like we all have. Once youve played a certain amount of time here, pretty much everybodys MRI will show some sort of a bulging disc.

The Cubs will fly out of Arizona on Tuesday without having made their final bullpen decisions. Non-roster players Rodrigo Lopez, Shawn Camp and Manuel Corpas are in the mix, along with Rule 5 pick Lendy Castillo.

Sveum indicated the Cubs wont leave anyone behind, essentially carrying eight pitchers for seven spots, and again said theres a possibility the front office could add another arm.

That will be an 11th-hour decision, Sveum said. A lot of bullpens will (be that way) because of all the other stuff involved, the business side of things. Thats one thing you always have to kind of wait out.

Decision time is approaching on Castillo, a converted infielder from the Philadelphia Phillies organization who hasnt pitched above the Class-A level.

The velocity isnt quite what it was earlier in camp, Sveum said, but hes been pitching a lot more than he probably ever has, too. Thats one thing we had to eyeball. He had to get built up if hes going to be in that role (to) where he can pitch three innings, get to 50, 60 pitches once in awhile. He doesnt (have) the biggest frame in the world to put a workload on him, but hes got to get used to it.

"It's certainly possible": Craig Kimbrel could be at Wrigley by the end of the week

"It's certainly possible": Craig Kimbrel could be at Wrigley by the end of the week

With each appearance that Craig Kimbrel makes in Iowa, the more anticipation for his arrival in Chicago grows. Kimbrel, who’s faced 11 batters over three appearances for the team’s Triple-A affiliate, is not far away from Wrigley. He’ll get in another inning of work on Tuesday, and then the team plans to meet with him and make a decision about next steps.

“He’s feeling really good and doing a nice job of getting himself ready,” Cubs’ President Theo Epstein said before Monday night’s game. “It’s not really about results or velo right now, it’s just kind of getting back into game shape and building that foundation. Tuesday’s an important checkpoint for him, to see how he’s feeling, and we’ll get together with him and make a call after that game.

“We’re getting close to the point where we’ll have established enough of a foundation where there’s an opportunity to take the next step provided he feels good with everything.” 

Once in Chicago, expect Kimbrel to be used as a closer in the most traditional sense of the word - at least at first. That means three out appearances in save situations, as opposed to a more flexible, leverage-based role that Kimbrel has -- at times throughout his career -- pushed back against. He only pitched more than an inning twice in 2018, and has done so 26 times over the span of his 542 game career. 

“With Craig, as he gets here, he’ll be slotted and really carefully,” Joe Maddon said. “And then as we get there, to the latter part of September, if it’s necessary, that’s when I think you look for the four outs possibly.

“He’ll be a three out guy when he gets here.” 

Some more news and notes from Wrigley Field as the Cubs begin a 4-game series against the Braves: 

  • After throwing 4 innings in relief on June 20th, Cubs top prospect Adbert Alzolay will make the first start of his major league career on Tuesday night. Alzolay is the presumed odd man out once Kyle Hendricks returns, but it sounds like the Cubs will give the rookie plenty of opportunities to prove he belongs with the major league club throughout the summer. “I think it’s all about can he perform at a level that allows him to contribute and make an impact,” Epstein said. “And it’s really important because you’re always looking for contributors and especially young ones that can come in, refresh the pitching staff, and be here for a while and make an impact. We need more of those guys.” 
  • There were a number of updates on injured Cubs pitchers on Monday. CJ Edwards threw up to 120 feet on Monday, and felt good according to Epstein. The reliever still has to throw a handful of side sessions before the team plans to approach him with a game progression. 
  • Kyle Hendricks threw 15 pitches off a mound, and also felt good after. He’s possibly in line to throw a longer bullpen later this week, and Epstein had mentioned the All-Star break as a time that’s “certainly in play” for his return. 
  • Brandon Morrow has thrown two side sessions in Arizona, and will throw a third sometime within the next two days. Prospect Nico Hoerner is also in Arizona taking part in baseball activities. Epstein mentioned the end of this week as a time that Hoerner could start seeing live at-bats again. 
  • 2B prospect Robel Garcia is making a ton of noise in Iowa. The 26-year-old is slashing .294/.366/.614 with 13 home runs over 43 games this year. With a lack of production from that position at the major league level (82 wRC+, 20th in MLB), speculation on Garcia’s timeline has grown of late. “He hits the ball really, really hard from both sides of the plate,” Epstein said. “He gets it in the air a lot, especially left-handed. He can turn around anyone’s fastball. Those are good ingredients - it’ll be interesting to see how he does as the league adjusts to him a little bit and challenges him with a heavier dose of breaking stuff.

    “I don’t want to put a timetable on it, but you’ve got to pay attention to a guy who’s performing at the level he is and offers the different skills that he has. Anyone on the Triple-A level is certainly on the radar.” 

Cardinals dealt tough blow as closer Jordan Hicks is diagnosed with torn UCL

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USA TODAY

Cardinals dealt tough blow as closer Jordan Hicks is diagnosed with torn UCL

As Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel ramps things up in Triple-A preparing for his MLB season debut, another NL Central closer is headed for a major surgery. 

Monday, the St. Louis Cardinals announced that closer Jordan Hicks has a torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his right elbow.

Hicks' injury is a devastating blow to the Cardinals bullpen, which ranks 10th in MLB with a 4.15 ERA entering action on Monday. The 22-year-old is one of the hardest throwing pitchers in baseball. His average sinker velocity in 2019 is 101.1 mph, with opponents hitting just .183 against it. His slider is even tougher to hit, with opponents batting just .154 versus that pitch.

Hicks hasn't been perfect (3.14 ERA, 29 appearances/28 2/3 innings), but he's been a reliable closer, converting 14 of his 15 chances. A bad month of May in which he allowed five earned runs in 7 1/3 innings hurt his ERA. Outside of that month, though, he's surrendered just five earned runs in 21 1/3 innings pitched.

The Cardinals said they're determining the next course of actions for Hicks, but torn UCLs require Tommy John surgery. If Hicks faces Tommy John, he likely will be out anywhere between 12 and 15 months, putting him on the shelf for the rest of 2019 and potentially all of the 2020 season.

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