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Cubs recall young starter and place key bullpen arm on injured list

10 months agoAndy Martinez

The Cubs are back to a 5-man rotation — but they’ll be without a lefty in the bullpen again.

The team recalled Caleb Kilian from Triple-A Iowa to start Saturday’s game against Miami and placed lefty reliever Brandon Hughes on the 15-day injured list with left knee inflammation, retroactive to April 27.

It’s the second IL stint for Hughes, who opened the season there with left knee inflammation. He’s looked solid since he returned, striking out 9 in 5.2 innings of work, and posting a 1.059 WHIP.

Kilian has looked solid in his last two starts with Iowa — he went 5 shutout innings with 4 strikeouts and allowed 3 hits with no walks on April 19 and then pitched 4 innings of 1-run ball on 4 hits and 3 walks on April 9. It was a nice recovery after he struggled in his first outing of the year, allowing 8 earned runs on 9 hits, 4 home runs and a walk in 2.1 innings.

He struggled in his major league debut last season, posting a 10.32 ERA and 2.03 WHIP in 3 games and those struggles continued at Triple-A, where he posted a 5.19 ERA and a 1.71 WHIP in 60.2 innings.

Later, Kilian realized his delivery was off — he was battling a knee injury that he was not aware was affecting it. This spring, he said he felt healthier and that could help him return to the level he was at when the Cubs acquired him for Kris Bryant in 2021.

“I think it changed my mechanics, though, cause towards the end of the year, I started landing open, I’ve always landed closed my whole life,” Kilian said in March. “I unconsciously compensated for it and so I worked on getting my mechanics back to where they were before this whole offseason. It’s feeling so much better.”

How Kilian performs and when some injured starters return could dictate his stay. Jameson Taillon (left groin strain) is eligible to come off the injured list on Tuesday, but it’s unclear whether he’d be in line to fully return to starting then, if he’d need a rehab assignment or if the injury could keep him out longer.

Kyle Hendricks pitched with Iowa on Thursday in a rehab assignment, but he likely would need at least one more rehab start before he’s pitching in the big leagues again.

Without Hughes in the bullpen, the Cubs will rely on Mark Leiter Jr. again as their lefty specialist. The righty has been stellar against hitters from either side of the plate (.180/.319/.308) but has faced more lefties (33 plate appearances compared to just 14 against righties) and been effective against them (.200/.283/.367).

Brad Boxberger has also been effective against lefties (.167 batting average against), but he’s been David Ross’ favorite choice in high-leverage situations, so he wouldn’t necessarily be used as a lefty specialist like Leiter would.

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