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Cubs bullpen could get a major boost as Codi Heuer nears return

1 year agoTim Stebbins

The Cubs understand how important it is to get their bullpen on track, and while that process goes beyond just one guy, the group could soon receive a boost in the form of right-hander Codi Heuer.

Heuer is currently on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Iowa as he continues his comeback from Tommy John surgery that sidelined him all last season and the first two months of the 2023 campaign.

The 26-year-old is eligible to come off the 60-day injured list as soon as Monday, and with 8 appearances under his belt for the I-Cubs, he appears close to rejoining the big-league club.

“Getting into the back end of his rehab,” Cubs manager David Ross said of Heuer. “I think he still feels like he’s just a tick off and wants to kind of lock in his mechanics and his strike-throwing. Seems to be getting better every single day. So, when he’s comfortable and his date’s up, I’m sure we’ll see him at some point soon after he feels great.”

Heuer has had mixed results in those eight rehab outings — allowing 7 runs, 7 hits and 7 walks in 7 2/3 innings while striking out 10. But this also is his first stretch of games since September 2021, and as Ross noted, he’s been getting better with each outing.

Over his last 3 appearances for Iowa, Heuer has thrown 4 scoreless innings, allowing 1 hit and 3 walks with 5 strikeouts. His four-seam fastball velocity averaged 96.1 mph and maxed out at 97.2 mph on Saturday, his most recent outing.

When asked what the Cubs want to see before they activate Heuer, Ross noted it’s more a collaborative process — with Heuer providing his own honest feedback on where he’s at on the mound.

“He wants to feel like he can contribute consistently up here and pound the zone,” Ross said. “I think that’s gotten better every single time out with where he feels like he’s throwing strikes and the stuff’s there but [he] wants to be able to command it. So, I think that’s probably the next step.”

Heuer has not pitched on back-to-back days yet for Iowa, with the Cubs keeping him on an every-other-day schedule. Getting him those reps is not necessarily one of the boxes the Cubs are looking to check before Heuer returns.

“Back-to-back is always helpful,” Ross said. “But some of these guys, like I don’t think [Jeremiah] Estrada had been back-to-back before he got here. [Nick] Burdi hadn’t been back-to-back before he got here. So that is one of those as long as he’s bouncing back fine. We need his arm.”

The Cubs bullpen has struggled this season, particularly in the month of May. They entered Sunday 26th in reliever ERA this month (5.32).

In high leverage spots, here’s where they rank in a few key categories in May:

ERA: 27th (9.45)
AVG: 26th (.304)
OBP: 27th (.414)
SLG: .30th (.826)

Those struggles extend to several relievers, but Heuer has pitched in those types of spots in his career, with the White Sox in 2020 and the Cubs in 2021 after they acquired him in the Craig Kimbrel trade.

In 86 career MLB games, Heuer has a 3.56 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 23 holds and 3 saves.

As the Cubs continue pushing different buttons to try to get the bullpen on track, Heuer will certainly get opportunities in leverage spots at some point. And his return could be part of an answer to the bullpen’s woes.

“The thing that stood out to me was one, he’s had success at this level right, in a big market,” Ross said of Heuer. “I think his mindset, his mentality will be really good for that group down there.

“The arm obviously, his electric stuff when he’s in the zone, when he’s healthy. We’ve got to get that thing figured out a little bit down there, and he would definitely help that if he comes back and is able to be the version of himself that we think he is and he knows he is.”

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