School might be out for the summer, but the Cubs will soon be put to the test.
The Cubs announced Saturday that Cole Hamels has a left oblique strain and placed the veteran left-hander on the 10-day injured list. In a corresponding move, the team called up Dillon Maples and Rowan Wick, designating outfielder Carlos Gonzalez for assignment. The Cubs will have a better idea how long Hamels will be out after he undergoes an MRI Monday in Pittsburgh.
The early ramifications to Hamels’ injury are obvious. With Kyle Hendricks on the injured list due to a shoulder injury, the Cubs will be without 40 percent of their Opening Day starting rotation for the foreseeable future. Hamels and Hendricks rank first and second in ERA (Hamels: 2.98, Hendricks: 3.36) and WHIP (Hamels: 1.20, Hendricks 1.14) among qualified Cubs starters.
Hendricks, whose return date is still uncertain, last pitched on June 14 against the Dodgers. Cubs manager Joe Maddon said it’s possible that Hendricks could return before the All-Star break (July 8-11), but nothing is set in stone.
"It is possible. We're not excluding any of that," Maddon said Thursday morning at Wrigley Field. "He's doing really well and he's feeling really good. If everything plays out properly and it looks like it's the right thing to do, we will. But we're still gonna listen to him and his body, but he sounds really encouraging right now."
Hendricks returning in the near future would help soften the blow of Hamels going down. If he doesn’t come back until after the break, though, the Cubs will have to ride with a rotation of Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, Yu Darvish, Adbert Alzolay and Tyler Chatwood until then.
The Cubs already announced that Alzolay will start on Monday against the Pirates, once again taking Hendricks’ turn in the rotation. Who will start after that is to be determined, Maddon said on Saturday. Chatwood was going to return to a relief role before Hamels’ injury. Now, he will likely get at least one start before returning to the bullpen whenever Hendricks comes back.
Alzolay and Chatwood have looked up to the task when starting this season, excluding Chatwood’s start Thursday against the Braves in which he allowed six runs in five innings Chatwood’s other two starts:
-April 21 vs. Diamondbacks: 6 IP, 2 H, 0 R/0 ER, 2 BB, 3K
-June 20 vs. Mets: 4 IP, 6 H, 3 R/2 ER, 1 BB, 1 K
Chatwood has thrown 71, 73 and 90 pitches, respectively, in his three starts this season. The Cubs have been cognizant of his pitch count since he has pitched mostly in relief this season. His pitch count should increase, now that he will likely be exclusively starting until Hendricks returns.
Hamels going down not only affects the Cubs’ pitching staff, but the position player group, too. Cubs relievers have pitched 22 1/3 innings since Monday, including seven on Friday after Hamels departed. Because the bullpen is taxed, the Cubs had to call Maples and Wick to give Maddon a few fresh relief arms.
Hamels going on the injured list opened up a spot on the active roster, but Gonzalez was somewhat of a roster casualty, as designating him for assignment opened up another spot. Gonzalez has struggled this season (.200/.289/.283 slashline in 145 total at-bats, .175/.306/.300 line in 40 at-bats with the Cubs), however.
Thus, the Cubs have one less position player available off the bench on Saturday and perhaps on Sunday. However, designating Gonzalez for assignment also opened up a spot on the 40-man roster. After they leave Cincinnati, the Cubs can shuffle their active roster as they see fit.
Robel Garcia has been making noise in the Cubs’ farm system this season. Entering Saturday, the 26-year-old holds a .293/.371/.610 slashline with 21 home runs and 57 RBIs in 69 games between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. He’s also a second baseman, a position in need of an offensive boost for the Cubs.
Cubs fans have been clamoring on Twitter for the team to call up Garcia. However, he’s struck out 86 times in 246 at-bats this season, including 64 times in 168 at-bats with Iowa. And, before this season, he last played professionally stateside in 2014. Garcia’s numbers are eye-popping, but the minor leagues and MLB are two different stories.
Still, the Cubs giving him a chance at the MLB level is at least slightly more possible, now that there’s an opening on the 40-man roster. There will be more clarity on what roster moves the Cubs make following Hamels’ MRI on Monday, though, and even more after Hendricks returns.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.