The end of the Brandon Morrow Era: Veteran reliever won't return to Cubs bullpen this season


The end of the Brandon Morrow Era: Veteran reliever won't return to Cubs bullpen this season

Veteran reliever Brandon Morrow won't be making a Kyle Schwarber-esque comeback for the Cubs this season.

Morrow has missed the entire year while dealing with the same elbow issue that forced him out of action in the second half last season. He was working towards a comeback and even threw live batting practice to hitters earlier this month, but the Cubs announced Wednesday he suffered a setback that will end his 2019 campaign.

Morrow will see a specialist next week and the likely next step would be a surgery to release the pressure on the radial nerve in his right elbow.

"He certainly worked very hard in an attempt to come back and tried a lot of different techniques and procedures and just wasn't able to get over the hump where he could sustain full exertion and progress past live BPs towards a rehab stint," Theo Epstein said Wednesday. "We feel bad for him, feel bad for us that he wasn't able to contribute this year. But we've kinda sensed this coming for a little bit now since he hasn't been able to get over that hump.

"We certainly were operating under the presumption that he wouldn't help us recently and saw it as sort of gravy if we could and unfortunately, that's not gonna happen."

The Cubs signed Morrow before the 2018 season to a two-year, $21 million deal that included a $12 million team option for the 2020 season. It's safe to say the team won't be picking that up for next year and now that he's 35, it's unknown what his future might be in baseball.

Morrow was fantastic for the Cubs last season when he was able to pitch, going 22-for-24 in save situations with a 1.47 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. He emerged as a bonafide lockdown reliever in 2017 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, when he posted a 2.06 ERA and pitched in all seven games in the World Series that fall.

The Cubs knew they weren't going to have Morrow for at least the first month of 2019 after he underwent a procedure on his elbow in November - the same procedure Darvish had a month earlier. 

But Morrow suffered setback after setback and had trouble recovering after throwing bullpens and ramping up his recovery.

Morrow would've been a nice addition to the Cubs' much-maligned bullpen down the stretch - and potentially in October - but that was always a longshot that he would be able to make it back in time to have a major impact.

He'll go down as something of a regrettable free agent signing for Epstein's front office, but nobody could've predicted this level of injury, even for a guy with a long list of arm issues earlier in his career.

"I think we were pretty confident he would pitch at a really high level when he was out there," Epstein said. "The stuff coming out and he did [pitch well] in the first half last year. I don't know. I look back, maybe we should've had even more conservative guidelines with him or maybe there's nothing we could do. It's impossible to say. 

"Obviously he's got a significant injury history, which makes him a calculated risk. When you sign someone like that, how good he was, you know you're gonna get quality when he's out there, but there's a risk of not getting the quantity. That burned us for the last year-and-a-half and that's on me."

Epstein and the Cubs know the bullpen has caused plenty of heartache for fans this season - including on the recent road trip - but now that everybody else besides Morrow is back healthy, they feel like things might finally fire on all cylinders down there.

"Obviously the pen's been a story this year, but I do think a lot of guys have stepped up in his absence," Epstein said. "I think it's coming together to the point where it can be a strength for us. We won't have Morrow to help the rest of the way, but we haven't had him all season."

Yu Darvish emotional after Cubs lose another tough one: 'I'm so frustrated'

Yu Darvish emotional after Cubs lose another tough one: 'I'm so frustrated'

With their postseason hopes fading by the day and the Cubs needing him most, Yu Darvish delivered on Sunday.

And yet, the game ended in a far-too familiar way for the Cubs: with a 3-2 loss, the Cubs’ fifth-straight one-run defeat — and third since Thursday when they were tied or leading in the ninth inning or later.

“If you just play back the tape, it’s almost unbelievable that it turned out this way,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Also, the games against Cincinnati. For the last six, this is really wash and repeat. Of course it’s frustrating."

Darvish was extremely emotional postgame, as evidenced by a mud stain spread across his locker resulting from an anger-laced throw of his cleat. He pitched well — 8 1/3 innings, three earned runs, 12 strikeouts and no walks — only running into trouble in the ninth.

“I’m so frustrated, you can see it, right?” he said, looking back at his locker. “We have to win, especially today, but we lost.”

The 33-year-old right-hander was rolling heading into the ninth, which started off with pinch-hit triple by Jose Martinez that hit off Albert Almora Jr.’s glove, despite a valiant diving effort.

“It sucks that we couldn’t win that game,” Almora said. “I really wanted to make that play there. Can’t catch them all, but I tried.”

For what it’s worth, Craig Kimbrel didn’t pitch Sunday because he was unavailable, though Maddon said he would’ve stuck with Darvish even if his closer was available.

"I was happy at that point, but right now everything just….There’s no words right now," Darvish said.

That’s neither here nor there, though. What matters is that the Cubs lost another game that they seemed to have in their grasp, only to see it slip away late. They're now eliminated from NL Central contention, and their elimination number in the Wild Card race is three.

Even Maddon struggled to explain the series, one where the Cubs played quite well but only saw their playoff hopes take a big hit.

“It’s really difficult,” he said. “You look at it, how did that all happen? How did we lose all those four games? They were just one runner better than us every night and they were really evenly matched. That’s all I will concede.”

Although Darvish admitted he feels responsible for Sunday’s loss, Maddon spoke highly of the right-hander, even comparing how he's pitched to what Jake Arrieta did during his tenure with the Cubs. 

“I saw Jake pitch really well and win a Cy Young, but this is equivalent of all of that,” he said. “The stuff, command of his stuff. [Darvish] absolutely deserved a better fate.”

Whether you think that Maddon was being too hyperbolic there or not, there’s no doubting that Darvish looked excellent for majority of his outing on Sunday. Baseball is a game of inches, something the Cubs experienced firsthand this weekend.

“They got us. They got us,” Maddon said. “Give them credit for that, but we did not leave anything on the field, man.”

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Cubs Talk Podcast: Swept by the Cardinals (and playoff dreams dashed)

USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: Swept by the Cardinals (and playoff dreams dashed)

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Tony Andracki and Kelly Crull discuss the Cardinals sweep, Yu Darvish taking the loss so hard, and what to look for over the final six games of the year.

01:00 - Reaction to being swept by the Cards

03:30 - Darvish taking the loss really hard

05:30 - This is the Yu Darvish Cubs fans thought they were getting when he signed with the Cubs

07:00 - Almora's miscue in the 9th inning of the loss

08:00 - It feels like the end of an era

12:00 - Is this the end of an era for the Cubs?

16:00 - Surprised Rizzo was available on the field for the entire Cardinals series?

20:00 - There is no one thing you can look to that didn't work this season

22:00 - What do you want to see over the final six games?

25:00 - Seeing a cornerstone being helped off the field for a second Sunday in a row

29:00 - How much will we see the injured guys on the field?

Listen here or in the embedded player below. 

Cubs Talk Podcast