As the Cubs got set to welcome the Oakland A's to Wrigley Field for the first time in nearly a decade, they had to do so without their closer and their backup stopper. And a few hours later, they watched as their potential backup backup closer walked off the mound wincing and holding his chest.
Craig Kimbrel (knee) just hit the injured list Monday afternoon, Pedro Strop (neck) went on the shelf on the Cubs' last road trip and Brandon Kintzler just left Monday's 6-5 win with right pec discomfort.
Kintzler's status is unknown right now and the other two pitchers should be back in the near future, but it's the 2018 closer — Brandon Morrow — who looms as the biggest x-factor in the bullpen.
Morrow just turned 35 at the end of last month and hasn't pitched in the big leagues in more than a year, but he's still plugging away on the comeback trail.
"He's feeling good," Jed Hoyer said Monday. "He's throwing right now; he's out to 120 feet. We've been getting good reports about how he's feeling and that's the most important thing. I've said all along — we're cautiously optimistic.
"He'd be an unbelievable shot in the arm if he can do it."
Hoyer said last week the Cubs weren't banking on a return from Morrow this season, but the GM clarified those comments Monday, saying he and the rest of the front office didn't want to operate as if and Morrow return was a guarantee. So they went out and added Derek Holland and David Phelps to the bullpen in the week leading up to the deadline.
Morrow was lights-out in the Cubs bullpen last season, pitching to a 1.47 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 22-for-24 in save chances across 35 outings.
He is not yet pitching in games and the Cubs have not announced their plan for the right-hander, but Hoyer said Morrow is currently pain-free in the elbow thanks to a minor procedure that alleviated the pressure on his radial nerve.
Imagine how the Cubs bullpen would look with Morrow in the mix, assuming Kimbrel and Strop can return to health.
But with Morrow's injury history and the long layoff, nothing is guaranteed.
"Obviously, the comments he's made and in talking to him, it's clear — he wants nothing more than to come back and help this team," Hoyer said. "It has to be frustrating to not be here. We're cautiously optimistic and we know how much it would help us if he did it."