Willson Contreras’ injury, the Romine brothers and a busy day of Cubs roster moves
When the Cubs announced a flurry of roster moves Thursday, there was a clear headliner — Jake Arrieta’s unconditional release.
But beyond that, there was another very important aspect — Willson Contreras heading to the 10-day IL with a right knee sprain.
Contreras has been the heart and soul of a Cubs team that has gone through a very difficult transition over the last few weeks.
He tweaked his knee working on a blocking drill prior to Wednesday’s game. He initially played through it but was replaced by Robinson Chirinos mid-game and landed on the IL the following morning.
“Definitely not something that’s serious but something that doesn’t make a lot of sense to play with and risk anything,” Jed Hoyer said Thursday.
Entering Thursday, Contreras had been behind the plate for 793 innings — nearly 20 innings more than the next-closest player in Major League Baseball.
With the Cubs out of the pennant race and the way Contreras has been leaned on this season, the team had every reason to be extra cautious and give him at least a week-and-a-half breather.
He has dealt with a bunch of bumps and bruises along the way and this has also been an unusual season for catchers. Everybody talked about pitchers’ workloads coming into 2021 but catchers also are in a foreign spot after last year’s 60-game sprint of a season.
“This guy has a pain tolerance that’s far beyond most people,” Hoyer said. “I go back to [Craig] Kimbrel hitting him in the hand with a 99mph fastball. I assumed that was the end of his season and he hit 2 innings later. It’s remarkable how tough he is.
“He’s caught the most innings this year up until now. Pretty remarkable. I do think it does take a toll on his offense to a certain extent. I think he’s a special bat but there’s times where given how much he plays and the way he plays, it can definitely wear him down. His durability and his energy is off the charts.”
The Cubs also had a catcher waiting in the wings, making the roster decision a bit easier. That’s a first for the team after a ton of injuries to the catching depth throughout 2021.
Austin Romine was activated off the 60-day IL Thursday to take Contreras’ place on the roster. He was signed over the winter to serve as Contreras’ primary backup but dealt with a knee sprain in spring training and then injured his wrist on a swing in late-April and has been on the shelf ever since.
The 32-year-old appeared in 6 games with the Cubs earlier this season and has 10 years of MLB action under his belt with the Yankees and Tigers. He has spent the last couple weeks rehabbing with the Cubs’ rookie league team in Arizona and appeared in a pair of games with Triple-A Iowa as well.
He joins Chirinos to form a veteran catching duo while Contreras works his way back to full health.
It also provides a cool little story for both the Cubs and the Romine household. Austin’s arrival in Chicago puts him alongside his brother, Andrew, in the same dugout.
Andrew, 35, signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs prior to 2021 and after spending all year with Triple-A Iowa, he was called up to the majors after the wild trade deadline. He has appeared in 12 games for the Cubs and smacked a big 3-run homer off Kimbrel last week.
“It’s really cool that Austin and Andrew are on the same team,” David Ross said. “They’ve never gotten to play together, so one of my priorities here coming up soon will be to get them in the lineup, hopefully together in a game. I don’t have a brother, but just to be able to take the field with your brother [is cool].
“They’ve both had major league careers — long ones — and you come here and what both of them have been through in their careers, I think that’s a really cool thing. That will be a smile on my face when I get to write that in, for sure.”
The Romine brothers not only got in the lineup at the same time Thursday afternoon, but they also formed the team’s battery in the top of the 9th inning. With the Cubs trailing 16-3, Andrew pitched while Austin caught. Andrew gave up a home run and a single but also picked up a strikeout thanks in part to some great framing by his brother.
To round out a busy day of roster moves, the Cubs also called up right-handed pitcher Ryan Meisinger to take Arrieta’s place on the pitching staff. The team designated Kyle Ryan for assignment to make room for Meisinger on the 40-man roster.
Meisinger, 27, has some big-league experience with the Orioles (2018) and Cardinals (2020). He was 2-2 with a 4.25 ERA in 24 appearances with Triple-A Iowa and flashed an eye-popping ability to miss bats (13.7 K/9).
Meisinger gave up 4 runs in 1.2 innings of work in his Cubs debut Thursday afternoon.