If the Cubs have the lead in the ninth inning of a close game on Opening Day, don't expect to see Brandon Morrow trotting out for the potential save.
Theo Epstein said Thursday the Cubs are anticipating being without their closer for the first part of the 2019 season as Morrow recovers from the forearm bone bruise that kept him out for the entire second half of 2018.
Morrow followed in Yu Darvish's footsteps, needing a debridement procedure to clean up the elbow after the bone bruise. The problem is, Darvish had the surgery in September and is on track to begin throwing soon and the plan is to have him ready for the start of spring training.
Morrow, on the other hand, just had the surgery a month ago (Nov. 6) and will not throw at all until about Feb. 6, three months after the initial procedure.
"As we gave him plenty of time to heal from the bone bruise, he felt a lot better, but he didn't feel perfect," Epstein said. "He didn't feel quite as he was expecting it to feel as the bone bruise was allowed to heal, so as a similar case with Darvish, we made the decision to just go in and do a quick scope of him.
"They did a quick clean-up of some cartialge and bone in there. A quick debridement arthroscopically and he's feeling really good one month post-op. And based on the rehab schedule, it could potentially affect his availbility in April. ... Feb. 6 is the target date — that probably doesn't give him enough time to get fully, 100 percent ready Opening Day."
The Cubs were very cautious with Morrow in 2018, his first year with the club, and it's reasonable to expect them to be careful once again with the veteran pitcher who sports a long history of arm injuries over his career. If there's any question about Morrow's health or readiness, expect the Cubs to opt for giving the 34-year-old more time to ensure he's ready to go.
Obviously that is not good news for the Cubs, who were already planning to address their bullpen this winter. The plan has always been to augment Morrow and top setup man Pedro Strop with other options who could potentially slide in at closer in case of injury or ineffectiveness.
That now becomes a pressing need for the club with MLB's annual Winter Meetings beginning this weekend in Las Vegas.
The Cubs are highly motivated to finding other bullpen options for all season, but now they may be without Morrow for an indeterminate amount of time to begin the season.
"That underscores the need for depth and game options early in the year," Epstein said. "For him, I think it will be a positive knowing that we completely addressed the issues that were bothering him last year instead of waiting for them to come back to make sure. And also to really help him be strong late in the season, as well."
The Cubs could've really used Morrow at the end of last season and when they initially signed the veteran reliever, they envisioned him pitching in the most impactful moments in the most important games of the year.
That wasn't possible in 2018, but the Cubs are hoping that may be the case next season — even if that means going the first few games (or weeks) without Morrow's services.