Cubs News

Cubs call up pitching prospect amid series of roster updates

1 month agoAndy Martinez

If there’s one thing Craig Counsell has excelled in early in his Cubs tenure, it is tempering expectations on young players.

Prospects are not brought up to be cure-alls.

That is the reality for 23-year-old right-handed pitcher Porter Hodge, who was called up Friday morning — he’s not the savior to the Cubs’ bullpen woes.

“Porter, this is obviously a young pitcher with a very good arm,” Counsell said before Friday’s game against the Pirates. “And it’s a little fast for Porter, frankly, but it’s a good arm. This is going to be a good experience for him and this is going to be development for him, for sure. Just being here and being around this is going to be really good development for him.”

Hodge was recalled Friday as another pitcher landed on the shelf — righty Colten Brewer was placed on the 15-day IL with a low back strain, retroactive to May 14. Brewer first felt the injury on Wednesday in Atlanta.

“We tried to wait,” Counsell said. “Essentially it improved after day one and then we’ve leveled off and it just hasn’t improved.”

Hodge opened the season in Double-A and pitched 4 scoreless innings in 2 appearances, prompting a promotion to Iowa. At Triple-A, the results weren’t the sharpest — he had a 6.55 ERA, 2.09 WHIP and 19.6% walk rate in 11 innings, but some of the underlying metrics give cause for optimism.

He had a 32.1% strikeout rate before his promotion to the big leagues, showing the ability to stymie hitters. Hodge also has a .423 batting average on balls in play that indicates some bad luck against him at Triple-A. And the elevated walk rate could be in part thanks to the automated ball-strike system that’s used at the Triple-A level.

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“He’s missed a lot of bats out there and he’s got really good stuff,” general manager Carter Hawkins told reporters earlier this week in Atlanta. “From that standpoint, I think it’s the type of pitch mix that can compete in the big leagues. He’s going to have to throw some more strikes and just compete at that level.

“Now, Triple-A’s a little bit tough because you got the ABS system going on there. So it’s a little bit of a tighter zone.”

But the expectation, at least early on, is that Hodge doesn’t have to figure it all out on Day 1 or even in his first week. It’s all about taking in the big-league experience and using it as a growth opportunity in his development as a pitcher.

“Porter needs to just log innings,” Counsell said. “He got off to a great start in Double-A and was moved quickly and is doing really well. I think he’s a guy that just needs innings.”

Here are updates on a slew of other Cubs players:

Julian Merryweather

One of the key pieces of Counsell’s bullpen, Julian Merryweather’s absence has been felt. Amid the injuries and struggles, his stability and skillset could have benefitted the Cubs.

He is taking the next step in his recovery from a rib stress fracture, though. Counsell announced Friday that Merryweather is in Arizona and is expected to begin playing catch on Monday.

“He’s turned the corner a little bit and doing well,” Counsell said.

Merryweather won’t be back when he’s eligible to come off the IL on June 5, though. The ramp-up needed from his time away will push him into at least mid-June on a recovery timeline.

“This is going to be longer than 60 days,” Counsell said. “I mean, we’ve been shut down from throwing for really close to six weeks here. He hasn’t played catch and optimistic that Monday would be the first day we would start a throwing progression.”

Nico Hoerner

Nico Hoerner was out of the Cubs lineup for the fourth straight day on Friday as he continues to deal with left hamstring tightness. Hoerner went through a full pregame routine on Thursday and the plan was for him to go through another similar day on Friday.

“So, Nico still felt the hamstring yesterday in exercise,” Counsell said. “We’re day to day with it but still something there so not in the lineup.”

The Cubs are hopeful they can avoid an IL stint with the Gold Glover but they haven’t ruled it out, either.

Part of the dilemma they’re facing is — do they want to play without him for less than 10 days and get him back sooner, or lose him for the full 10 days and continue to play without both him and Dansby Swanson?

“We’d like to avoid it,” Counsell said. “But obviously if it’s still lingering then it’s on the table.”

Also …

  • Speaking of Swanson (right knee sprain), he took live batting practice against lefties Drew Smyly (right hip impingement) and Jordan Wicks (left forearm strain) Friday as the trio took the next step in their recovery. Wicks and Smyly are both eligible to be activated and Swanson can come off on Saturday.
  • Friday was a planned off day for Seiya Suzuki. He was hit by a pitch in the forearm in the 8th inning of Thursday night’s loss, but Counsell said the day off was not related to that.

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