Wick, Chafin, Quintana and the next steps for the Cubs bullpen
While the rest of the pitching staff is starting to fire on all cylinders, the Cubs received some bad news on an important reliever.
Rowan Wick was placed on the 10-day injured list Saturday afternoon with a left oblique strain.
David Ross said Wick initially experienced the side issue during his last appearance on Wednesday, feeling a “burning sensation” in that oblique area.
“He got some testing done and it’s pretty bad,” Ross said.
The Cubs manager also said the team is anticipating Wick’s injury will take more than 10 days to heal and acknowledged the very real possibility that this might end the hard-throwing right-hander’s season.
Wick has been one of the Cubs’ most trusted relievers since dating back to the middle of last season. In 2020, he leads the team with 5 holds, is second with 4 saves and carries a 3.12 ERA in 19 appearances.
The Cubs activated Andrew Chafin off the IL Saturday to take Wick’s spot in the bullpen, but it’s still a huge blow to a relief unit that has been the best in baseball this month (1.92 ERA).
“He’s been a lockdown guy at any part on the back end of games and throwing really well, so yeah, it’s a huge loss,” Ross said.
The MLB postseason begins in less than two weeks and in Wick’s absence, Ross knows other guys will need to fill in during some high-leverage moments.
Jeremy Jeffress has been the relief ace all season while Craig Kimbrel has looked a lot more like his elite self on the mound lately (11 Ks, 0 BBs, 0 ER in last 6 IP).
Jason Adam and Duane Underwood Jr. have also impressed, making the most of their opportunities when Ross has put them in an important spot in games of late.
“Somebody will have to step up; we’ll find out who that is,” Ross said. “Those names can come and go. Whoever’s hot and pitching. I have a lot of confidence in a lot of guys down there and I’ve definitely throughout this shortened season put guys in different scenarios that I feel like they’ve kinda answered the call and pitched well.
“That’s the great thing about baseball — it’s just another opportunity for somebody else to step up and prove they’re a consistent big-leaguer.”
Chafin can certainly help with that, as the 30-year-old veteran has been one of the top left-handed relievers in baseball over the past few seasons (3.46 ERA in 225 appearances).
The Cubs acquired Chafin ahead of the trade deadline last month and he’s been on the shelf with a finger injury for his first three weeks with the organization.
He has felt like it’s been a smooth transition joining the Cubs and explained his gameplan is just to keep things as simple as possible.
“Coming in and being a quality reliever, get my job done. There ain’t much more to it than that,” Chafin said. “Just show up and do my job.”
While the Wick loss is a huge blow, the Cubs have received stellar starting pitching lately (including Kyle Hendricks’ gem Friday night and Alec Mills’ no-hitter last weekend) and they have another reinforcement on the way.
José Quintana threw a simulated game Saturday and all went well. He’s missed the last couple weeks with a strained lat, but Ross said the veteran southpaw is on track to be activated off the IL sometime during the Cubs’ four-game series in Pittsburgh next week.
The exact role Quintana fills when he returns is not yet clear, but it will be out of the bullpen at least initially. There is not enough time left in the season for him to get completely stretched out to rejoin the rotation, but he should still be able to provide the Cubs some length over the final week and into the playoffs.
“I’m gonna try to set him up for success like everybody else and get him in there for 1 or 2 [innings] maybe to start off,” Ross said. “And then if we can build on top of that, great. If we don’t have that opportunity, then we try to stretch him out in some of the down time. And if we don’t get to stretch him out, then he will just stay a bullpen piece and we’ll use him that way.
“There’s a lot in the air. I think a lot of it dictates on how he performs and how he feels after going out there and getting back in the mix.”