Cubs still not sure when they're getting closer Brandon Morrow back

Cubs still not sure when they're getting closer Brandon Morrow back

The Cubs have the second-best bullpen ERA in the National League, but they haven't had a designated closer in six weeks.

That doesn't look to be changing anytime soon, either.

Brandon Morrow is still nursing a sore biceps/elbow and does not currently have a timetable to return to the Cubs bullpen.

He threw from flat ground again before Wednesday's game from a distance of 105 feet. He's thrown from flat ground a few times over the last week or so, but the last time he was on a mound was Aug. 18 in Pittsburgh for a 25-pitch bullpen session. Morrow flew back to Chicago after that bullpen to get more tests on his arm, but the Cubs insisted there was no setback.

Right now, nobody knows when he will on a mound next and at this point, you can rule out any chance of Morrow pitching in a minor-league game as part of a rehab stint. The best case scenario would be a mid-September return.

"He is doing better and he's reported that he's not feeling anything after he's thrown, which is a good thing," Joe Maddon said. "We're optimisitic, but we haven't put a date down to get him on the mound or get him in a sim game. We haven't done that yet.

"We're just small victories right now that he's feeling better every time. Relatively soon, though, we're gonna have to be figuring that out. We're getting closer to having to start to figure out when's the right time to get him out there on the mound, doing regular pitching things. 

"We may have to test it out and find out if it's gonna be real or not for the next month."

The Cubs have about four-and-a-half weeks left of regular season action before playoffs begin. They haven't pushed Morrow with his long injury history, nor have they really needed to with trade acquisitions like Jesse Chavez helping to augment the bullpen in Morrow's absence and keep the Cubs atop the NL Central.

With the minor-league seasons ending this week, the only way Morrow will be able to face live hitters before returning to a game is if he pitches a simulated game at Wrigley Field against his Cubs teammates.

That will become easier to do beginning Saturday when rosters expand.

The Cubs also could roll Morrow out in low leverage situations in September, working him in in the fifth or sixth inning or when they're up/down big in games. 

"You'll have extra players here to start up a sim game and then you could pick and choose earlier parts of the game and almost treat it like a rehab assignment," Maddon said. "You just have to be more creative with it. Definitely worth it for a guy like that. We'll try to figure that out as well as we can."

Morrow has been exactly as advertised since signing a two-year, $21 million free agent deal over the winter.

He's served as an anchor of the Cubs bullpen and a low-stress closer, converting 22 of 24 save chances with a 1.47 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 31 strikeouts in 30.2 innings. When he's on, he comes right out and attacks hitters, pumping strikes at a high rate without wasting many pitches or nibbling.

Morrow's been valuable for the Cubs in the regular season, but where they're gonna need him the most is in October, when elite relievers suddenly become so important. So it makes sense the Cubs have been so patient with him and this injury.

They've gotten by without him by using a mix of options in the closer's role, with Pedro Strop getting most of the opportunities.

But Maddon has not named anybody the "closer" since Morrow's been on the DL, joking this week that Strop is not the "ordained" closer — "He's not been to the Vatican," Maddon riffed.

Strop has picked up 8 saves in the second half, Chavez has notched a pair and even guys like Brandon Kintzler have come in to pitch the ninth inning after Maddon utilized Strop in the eighth to snuff out a rally (like last week in Detroit).

Whenever Morrow does return, he won't immediately be thrown right back into the closer's role, though part of that is because he won't have had much of an opportunity to face live hitters with no rehab stint.

"That would be a bad assumption for me, I think. You'd have to build him back into that role and find out where he's at," Maddon said. "And even if you want to use him in the ninth inning, I can't even imagine back-to-back nights kind of a thing. 

"You would think that by the end of the month, if it all went well, that you can possibly do something like that. But I don't think that you just throw him back into that."

Bold predictions for the Cubs' 2019-20 offseason


Bold predictions for the Cubs' 2019-20 offseason

The Cubs are just a couple of weeks away from a pivotal offseason that could see a lot of change coming to Chicago's North Side.

Then again, we thought the same thing a year ago and it turned out Theo Epstein's biggest move last winter was signing Daniel Descalso to a two-year deal.

But after missing the playoffs in 2019, the Cubs are now at a crossroads as an organization. 

The NBC Sports Chicago crew previewed the offseason on the latest CubsTalk Podcast with some bold predictions for the winter.

Listen here and check out the fearless calls below:

(Note: Rationale and more context on each bold prediction in the podcast.)

David Kaplan

1. Cubs are going to take a page out of the Yankees' book and retool on the fly rather than go all-in to contend in 2020.
2. Jose Quintana has thrown his last pitch as a Cub.
3. This will be the second-to-last offseason for Theo Epstein as the Cubs president of baseball operations.

Kelly Crull 

1. Cubs re-sign Nick Castellanos and trade away Kyle Schwarber.
2. Tyler Chatwood will be in the 2020 rotation.
3. John Lackey will be named quality assurance coach on David Ross's coaching staff. (Kidding, but only kind of...)

Tony Andracki

1. Before the Cubs play a Spring Training game, Javy Baez will sign an extension that will keep him in Chicago through at least 2023.
2. Willson Contreras will be traded this winter and the Cubs will get some much-needed pitching help in return.
3. Cubs sign Howie Kendrick this winter as the professional bat and lefty-masher they craved in 2019.
4. Ben Zobrist will return on a one-year deal and finish his playing career in a Cubs uniform.
5. David Bote, Albert Almora Jr. and Addison Russell will all be traded or non-tendered this winter as the Cubs remake their bench/depth.

Jeff Nelson

1. Willson Contreras will sign a contract extension.
2. Ben Zobrist will return as a player/coach.
3. Jose Quintana will be traded for minor league depth.
4. Terrance Gore will be signed to be the 26th man on the roster under the new rules.

Theo Epstein’s dog damages Arizona rental property with excessive urine

USA Today

Theo Epstein’s dog damages Arizona rental property with excessive urine

In the midst of an intensive hiring process for the new Cubs manager, Theo Epstein is being sued by an Arizona couple claiming Epstein’s dog, Winston, damaged their house. The cause of damage? Peeing excessively inside the property Epstein rented for spring training in 2015.

Yes, you read that right, Epstein’s dog peed so much he’s being sued.

The lawsuit was filed this Tuesday in Maricopa County, according to the Phoenix New Times, citing Epstein’s dog left “a terrible odor and urine-stained carpeting” in the Paradise Valley, Ariz., home where he and his family stayed.

Winston is a rescue mutt, weighing in at around ten pounds. He can’t pee that much, right?

The lawsuit states the dog "peed prolifically in the $1 million house, staining tile and stone flooring, wood door jams, cabinets, and furniture."

John and Mary Valentino referenced a 2017 quote by Epstein as proof that Winston had a peeing problem. When asked about being named the world’s greatest leader by Fortune magazine after the Cubs 2016 World Series win, Epstein said: “I can’t even get my dog to stop peeing in the house.”

Epstein left the rental property two weeks early due to a scorpion infestation later was shown a repair estimate of $51,405, according to the report.

Julian Green, the Cubs vice president of communications, told the New Times the lawsuit was “baseless.” He also said that an exterminator discovered 45 scorpions on the property that “put (Epstein’s) family at risk every time they put their children to sleep.” The Epsteins moved into a different house for the last two weeks of spring training.

The owners kept the $5,000 security deposit, and according to a source the Epsteins did not hear from them again for more than four years until the suit was filed Tuesday.

When asked about the lawsuit, Epstein replied, “As I said, we have no untouchables. Winston is definitely available in the right trade.”

We’ll be keeping tabs on this story as it unfolds. In the meantime, it’s good to see Epstein still has a sense of humor, even with a dog urine lawsuit and a Cubs managerial search on the line.

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