MESA, Ariz. – At a time of eerie quiet and somber contemplation even in the sports world, a rare, potentially upbeat, story walked from the parking lot toward the Cubs’ spring practice facility Thursday in Arizona.
Emphasis on walked.
“There’s lots of benefits for me in this actually,” Cubs reliever Brandon Morrow said.
Morrow and teammates are still trying to grasp the larger, sobering reality of the COVID-19 pandemic that has shut down much of the country’s normal business operations, including professional baseball. They wait in limbo for the next update on when they might play again, or even if they will in 2020.
For now, Morrow doesn’t hesitate when asked if he believes there will be a major-league season this year.
“Yeah,” he said through a fence keeping a lone media straggler locked out of the complex (along with anyone else who doesn’t work for the team).
“It’s going to be shortened, obviously. I don’t know how many games they’ll try to fit in,” he said. “Everything’s up in the air.”
But if there is one baseball certainty in the already lengthy delay to the start of a potential 2020 season, it comes in the form of guys like Morrow.
The once-dominant closer trying to bounce back from an elbow injury that cost him his 2019 season was last seen limping around the Cubs clubhouse because of a badly strained calf the last time spring training operated on a normal schedule.
That setback came on the heels of a chest strain, the two issues conspiring to assure a far later start to his season than originally anticipated – even with his elbow giving him no trouble since rehabbing from a relatively minor September surgery.
“The good news is my elbow feels good,” he deadpanned after the chest injury.
Within the strict confines of the non-real world of sports, if conditions become safe enough to start an abbreviated season at some point in June, or even July, teams with injury cases and depth issues could be among the bigger beneficiaries.
Say hello to the Cubs pitching staff.
“I’m good right now. I feel better,” said Morrow, who played catch Tuesday and again Thursday this week as he keeps his arm ready for bullpen work assuming a new spring training starts up. “Obviously, the extra time is good for me to get healthy.
“And then there’s lots of rumors floating around about how the season will shake out. I think that benefits me as well,” he added. “Less games, more pressure to win. I don’t know what they’re going to do about salaries, but mine’s down anyway. So it’s easier to keep somebody like that around, I think. And if they expand the rosters maybe, that would be another thing.”
The Cubs had little veteran bullpen depth coming into camp – and most of that had question marks attached to guys coming off down years in Craig Kimbrel, Morrow and Jeremy Jeffress.
Morrow was considered little more than a dice roll on a minor-league contract ($1 million for full big-league season). He offered the Cubs first right of refusal on the flyer after pitching only half a season on his two-year, $21 million deal that ended last year.
If he’s ready and strong by the time a restart were to happen, managing his health during a shortened season won’t be nearly as challenging as navigating a full six months, especially without the cold start of April.
An aging Cubs rotation might also benefit from a shorter season compared to some younger, deeper staffs around the league.
But even the optimistic Morrow knows that’s just something to dream on for now – as he makes the short commute every other day from his place in Arizona and exercises social distancing and other safe practices even in the sparsely populated Cubs complex.
“It’s weird that we have to [do this],” he said, gesturing to the oddity of conducting an interview with a beat writer through a fence at a 6-foot distance. “I don’t think people know what to think. It’s kind of day-to-day. It’s weird.”