Right as the Cubs have hit their stride, they're now in search of a new backup for their backup closer.
Pedro Strop hit the injured list Wednesday afternoon with a hamstring strain, the third hamstring issue he's had since last September (he strained his left hamstring running the bases in Washington D.C. Sept. 13, then was slowed by a right hamstring issue in spring training and now his left leg is an issue again).
The Cubs (21-13) have no specific timetable, but expect to be without their top reliever for at least a couple weeks.
Strop said he first felt something in his hamstring during his second inning of work on April 28 in Arizona. He informed the Cubs and they opted to give him the two-game series in Seattle off and hoped that between that and the two scheduled off-days, it would be enough time to let it heal.
Strop wasn't needed again until last Saturday against the Cardinals, when he threw a perfect ninth inning for his fourth save. He said he still felt the hamstring issue in that game, but it wasn't as bad and felt OK warming up before entering Monday night's game against the Marlins.
But Strop's hamstring was uncooperative in that game Monday night, tightening up in the cold and affecting his mechanics to make for a tough outing — he blew the save and was charged with the loss as he let all four batters he faced to reach on a trio of walks and a hit.
"I'm not happy to take that trip to the IL because you take a couple months to prepare to be ready for this point to help the team win and it's tough," Strop said. "But the way I felt, I wasn't able to help. Everybody could see it. Not making excuses, but I wasn't able to be myself."
The good news is Strop said this is a completely different issue than last September's injury and the current hamstring strain is less severe. He said he wasn't in severe pain Monday like he was when he pitched in the National League Wild-Card Game last October (nearly three weeks after he initially injured his hamstring), but was cognizant of the fact that he was limited physically.
Strop hopes to be back within a month.
"It is frustrating, especially with me, I take everything very personal," he said. "I take my job, my team, win, lose — I take it personal. So for me to be sidelined at this point when we're playing so well, I'm kinda jealous. I'm gonna try to do my thing back here, just supporting, clapping and pushing for them, but it is a little frustrating."
After a rough week-plus to start the 2019 season, the Cubs bullpen has bounced back in a big way. They entered play Wednesday leading baseball in ERA (2.40) since April 8.
Strop is confident his buddies will pick up the slack while he's gone, but how will that all work out? The Cubs are already down Brandon Morrow, who was suffered a setback in his recovery from offseason elbow surgery and does not currently have a timetable for a return.
Joe Maddon was hesitant to ever officially name Strop his "closer," though that's obviously the role the veteran right-hander has filled since Morrow went down midseason last year.
Moving forward, Maddon said it's going to be a mix of everybody — Steve Cishek, Brad Brach, Brandon Kintzler, Kyle Ryan, Carl Edwards Jr. (who was just promoted from the minor leagues this week), Mike Montgomery (activated off the IL Wednesday).
Ryan began the ninth inning of a 1-run game Wednesday, but was replaced by Cishek after giving up a seeing-eye single to the first batter. Cishek allowed another hit and then an ill-timed wild pitch that allowed the tying run to move into position at third base and later score on a groundout.
The end result (a blown save) isn't a good first test for a bullpen without Strop, but Maddon still feels like that's the winning formula. After Cishek got out of the inning, Tyler Chatwood and Carl Edwards Jr. each tossed a scoreless frame to set the stage for Jason Heyward's walk-off homer in the bottom of the 11th.
"You just gotta save somebody for that moment," Maddon said. "In advance, you start looking at their lineup — here's the seventh [inning], here's the eighth, things go well, maybe four hitters that inning, maybe four hitters that inning, who's the best guy for the last 3 outs — meaning maybe possibly four hitters.
"It'll be all the guys... It's wide open. It is the wild, wild west. I'm not going in with any preconceived ideas except who are our guys for tonight? And then I gotta build out the plan for that pregame and then game in progress, make the adjustments."
As for how Strop's injury affects the makeup of the roster, Theo Epstein took the same stance he had when Morrow's setback was first reported — that the Cubs would not immediately look to fill their closer's role from outside the organization (like calling Craig Kimbrel).
"It doesn't really change anything for us," Epstein said Wednesday. "We recognize this is a year we're gonna constantly be on the look out to make adjustments to the bullpen to try to put the right relivers in the right position to be successful, that we'll have to tweak and adjust over the course of the year as we go and that we'll receive a lot of help both internally and probably at some point from outside the organization.
"We have been in — and will continue to be in — an aggressive mindset with respect to the bullpen. I think the results thus far have been outstanding, but that doesn't mean we become passive or assume that's going to continue going forward. We're going to be challenged in that area throughout the course of the year and we have to continue to be resourceful.
"Our pitching infrastructure and Joe have done a great job putting these guys in a spot to be successful and that needs to continue. It's only underscored by the absence of Strop that guys are going to continue to have to step up and pitch well in big spots."Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Cubs easily on your device.