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Why Marcus Stroman’s return marked an important milestone for 2022 Cubs

2 months agoAndy Martinez

Thursday marked a pretty significant, if unexpected, date for the Cubs.

It was the first time the projected rotation was all healthy and active at the same time in 2022.

The Cubs completely overhauled their rotation in the offseason, adding Thursday’s starter Marcus Stroman just before the lockout in December, claiming lefty Wade Miley off waivers in November and signing Drew Smyly during Spring Training.

But Miley didn’t make his debut until May 10 after he started the season on the injured list with left elbow inflammation. Smyly missed time early in the season when he was placed on the bereavement list. Then, just as Miley was set to return off the injured list, Stroman was placed on the IL. Stroman was on the injured list for 11 days, pitching his first game in 18 days on Thursday in the Cubs’ 3-1 loss where he went 5 innings, allowing 3 runs (2 earned) on 5 hits and striking out 6.  

“It’s hard to get on a roll when you don’t have consistency in your rotation in your pitching,” Hoyer said. “We’ve had a hard time doing that with injuries and things so far.”

It was tough for the Cubs given the form Stroman was in before he hit the injured list. He pitched 7 shutout innings on May 1, striking out 5 and allowing just 2 hits in Milwaukee. 

On Thursday, Stroman dazzled in his first 3 innings — as if he had missed no time in the rotation — throwing 3 perfect frames, before allowing 3 runs in the 4th. He settled back in and pitched a scoreless 5th inning before exiting the game.

“Felt a lot better than I thought, to be honest,” Stroman said. “I’ve had layoffs like that before in the past and I’ve kinda been all over the place and just to be around the zone and give my team a chance — I think it’s something good to build off of.”

He spent his time away from the team focusing on his mechanics and doing a lot of dry work — he only threw one bullpen session “with a bucket of balls just throwing into a net.”

But he appreciated what he saw in his time away — Hendricks returning to his old form, Miley pitching like the pitcher he was last season and Justin Steele taking steps in his development as a major league starter.

“I think we compete each and every day,” Stroman said. “I think we’re young but I actually think everyone shows up and we compete. I truly feel like we’re capable of winning every single game that we play. 

“The effort level is there and that’s something that you don’t have all the times so just as long as we show up and keep putting that in, I think we’re gonna have good results.”

Hoyer had felt a sense of excitement on May 10 when the Cubs played the second game of their series in San Diego. Miley was making his season debut a day after Kyle Hendricks had gone 8.2 innings in the best Cubs start of the year.

Hoyer overlooked the numbers, instead focusing on how Miley pitched and looked.

“It’s fun to watch Wade the other day, his first outing,” Hoyer said. “I didn’t think he threw badly. I thought he threw actually pretty well. He had the walks, but he was missing by just a little bit. He looked like a tick off.”

He knew if Miley could get back in the groove and with Stroman nearing a return, the Cubs rotation would be shaping up as they envisioned in spring.

Miley showed signs that he was rounding back into form in his last outing, striking out 6 and allowing just 1 hit in 7 shutout innings while working extremely quick in a game that lasted just 2 hours, 29 minutes.

Obviously there’s not a better guy in the world to pitch with a lead than him for both your deadlines and for us,” Hoyer said with a smile. “He looked good and to get all those guys back and healthy would be really nice.”

The Cubs need the rotation to stay healthy and continue their upward trajectory. That will allow them to shorten games and turn to their bullpen, which had an NL-best 3.08 ERA heading into Thursday’s game.

“Let’s hope this is the beginning of having some turns through the rotation that we can have some consistency,” Hoyer said.

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