Cubs activate Jeimer Candelario, provide update on key reliever
The Cubs offense is getting a bit of a jolt ahead of the final stretch run.
The team activated infielder Jeimer Candelario from the 10-day IL. He’ll immediately return to the Cubs lineup — he’s starting at first base in the second game in Atlanta and hitting 7th. To make room on the active roster, the Cubs optioned infielder Jared Young to the Arizona Complex League.
“Really nice,” manager David Ross said before the game. “Has put in a lot of hard work getting back, has taken a little longer than he thought. Really turned a corner last few days. BPs look really good, being able to move well. Body’s responded well. It’s nice to have him back.”
Candelario landed on the injured list on September 12 with a low back strain. It was a longer recovery period for the 29-year-old, who the Cubs acquired at the trade deadline. When he first rejoined the team that he signed with as a minor league free agent, Candelario was an instant spark to the lineup.
In his first 13 games with the Cubs, Candelario slashed .391/.462/.565/182 wRC+ and lengthening the Cubs’ lineup. But he struggled before the IL stint — in 10 games in September he slashed .111/.286/.370/80 wRC+. A fully healthy Candelario could be the exact injection the Cubs need as they look to reach the playoffs.
“He looked really good in batting practice yesterday, so it was nice,” Ross said. “He was a real big addition at the trade deadline and hopefully he’s that here at the end of the season for us.
When Candelario was healthy, he was primarily playing at first, with Nick Madrigal manning the hot corner and Cody Bellinger in center field. With Miles Mastrobuoni (.550/.571/.650/241 wRC+ since being inserted in the starting lineup on September 20) manning third, Ross can be a little more creative in his matchups and in-game substitutions.
Wednesday night, that meant Mike Tauchman starting at DH, with a bench that has different profiles — power in Christopher Morel and Patrick Wisdom and speed in Pete Crow-Armstrong. Over the last 5 games of the season, having that depth could be crucial.
Part of Candelario’s comeback included a live batting practice session against closer Adbert Alzolay, who also is working back from an injury. Alzolay landed on the 15-day IL on September 11 with a right forearm strain and is eligible to come off. He threw 20 pitches against Candelario and other Cubs’ hitters.
“I think he felt good,” Ross said. “Got to spin some. Looked good against the batters. Had to work through some stuff from the stretch mechanically it felt like right there at the end and then locked it in and he felt good, came out of that good. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow and then be able to give a little bit more information after that.”
If the Cubs can get a healthy and effective Alzolay back, that could be a major boon to a bullpen that is thin now. For most of the season, Ross had been able to turn to a quartet of arms in leverage situations — Alzolay at the end, Julian Merryweather and Mark Leiter Jr. as setup men and Michael Fulmer as a bridge from the starters to those three.
Right now, Alzolay and Fulmer are both on the IL, with Fulmer likely done for the year and Leiter has not pitched in a week, with no explanation as to whether he’s dealing with an injury.
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