The Cubs are approaching a territory where they almost have *too much* pitching.
That concept doesn't actually exist, of course — especially for a team expecting to remain in a pennant race and more than half the season remaining on the schedule.
But the Cubs will likely have difficult decisions to make in the near future as Craig Kimbrel nears his Chicago debut while a trio of veteran arms inch closer to a return from their respective injuries.
Kyle Hendricks went on the injured list less than a week ago after experiencing shoulder inflammation following his start in Los Angeles, but he played catch Friday.
"The initial reports are that he's feeling good, but we're not ready to talk through a plan yet or a progression," GM Jed Hoyer said. "But we're happy the initial shutdown has been good. We just want to get him back on a mound as the dominant Kyle Hendricks and not rush him back. There's no reason to do that this time of year."
Hendricks has an impingement in his shoulder, but the Cubs feel confident the inflammation will go away and he'll be back to normal soon. They'll see how he feels after Friday's throwing session and the full shoulder workout he went through Thursday before they make a determination on his next step.
But it still seems unlikely Hendricks will be available to take the ball the next time his spot is due up in the rotation Tuesday, so Adbert Alzolay and Tyler Chatwood remain in contention to fill that start.
Carl Edwards Jr. (back) is nearing the end of his IL stint and offseason signing Tony Barnette seems to have finally moved past the shoulder issue that has delayed his Cubs debut and he's been pitching well in 8 outings for Triple-A Iowa this month (only 1 hit and 1 walk allowed in 7.1 scoreless innings).
"He's been doing well — hearing good stuff right now," Joe Maddon said of Barnette. "What I like is you're seeing this proliferation of arms right now. Everything's building up in a good way 'cause stuff's gonna happen. You can't have enough of that. So the fact that he's doing so well is very encouraging also."
Eventually, the Cubs may have to select a 13-man pitching staff from this group of arms:
Carl Edwards Jr.
And that's not even including injured veterans Brandon Morrow and Xavier Cedeno or minor-league options like Dillon Maples and Rowan Wick or any other pitcher the front office acquires before the trade deadline.
But of course, baseball has a way of solving those problems for teams whether due to injury or ineffectiveness.
Hoyer, Maddon and Theo Epstein have been discussing this exact roster crunch for a little while now, including another conversation Thursday night after Alzolay's debut. When Hendricks returns, the Cubs could go with a six-man rotation and slot Alzolay in there as another arm, or they could fold the rookie into the bullpen in some capacity.
Either way, it will be a good problem to have for the Cubs because it will mean Alzolay has forced the issue to remain in the big leagues.
Right now, the first corresponding move may be simple in that the Cubs could send Wick back to the minors to clear up a spot in the bullpen for Kimbrel. But what happens when Edwards and Hendricks return? What about when Barnette's rehab timeline is up at the end of the month?
That's what the front office and coaching staff is trying to determine right now.
"We got a nice thing going on conversationally where you got a lot of really good input and then you sprinkle in the analytical component of it also," Maddon said. "I have my ideas, but when it comes to that stuff, I really like the discussion because somebody's gonna have a different thought than you've had and all of a sudden, you come to the right conclusion.
"We're pretty good at that, I think. ... Moving it forward, I just have a lot of confidence in the group discussion."