Marcus Stroman has three months to salvage an injury-plagued season that would be even gloomier if Keegan Thompson and Justin Steele hadn’t picked up the slack in the Cubs’ starting rotation.
”I’m looking forward to those next three months,” said Stroman, who will start a rehab assignment Sunday with Triple-A Iowa. ”The group of guys we have here is incredible.”
The Cubs might have their projected rotation together for the first time shortly before the trade deadline Aug. 2, but the damage has been done.
Stroman, 31, who signed a three-year, $71 million contract in November, has been limited to nine starts because of a bout with COVID-19 and inflammation in his right shoulder.
Drew Smyly, 33, who will make a rehab start Monday with High-A South Bend or Iowa, also has made only nine starts and is recovering from a strained right oblique.
And Wade Miley, 35, who has a 2.84 ERA, has made only four starts and has been on the 15-day injured list for the last three weeks because of a strained left shoulder.
The Cubs’ rotation depth became even more challenged when Alec Mills left after allowing a double to the Red Sox’ Rafael Devers with one out in the first inning Saturday. Mills was diagnosed with pain in his lower back.
Mills, 30, projected as a valuable swingman, has appeared in only seven games (two starts) because of a strained lower back and a strained left quadriceps.
The array of injuries might serve as a warning for Stroman to ease his way back into the Cubs’ rotation, but he thinks he might need only one rehab start before returning.
”I had the proper buildup now,” said Stroman, who thinks he returned too quickly after a 19-day layoff because of COVID.
Stroman threw five innings and 77 pitches in his return start May 19 against the Diamondbacks, but he said he never recovered after that start and finally went on the IL after allowing nine runs in four innings June 3 against the Cardinals.
”After this, I should be good to go,” said Stroman, who expects to throw three to four innings and 55 pitches Sunday. ”I would assume I’d be in there every fifth day and feel good the rest of the year.”
After signing with the Cubs, Stroman bonded quickly with fans and would show snippets of his mound sessions at Pepperdine University during the lockout.
”[But] even if you feel great, baseball is such a team sport,” Stroman said. ”It’s hard to shorten spring training when you don’t know how much of a buildup you need, especially as a pitcher going through a 162-game season.
”I feel that’s why you’re seeing a lot of guys hurt. It’s unfortunate, but hopefully next year we have a normal spring and fewer guys on the IL.”
Manager David Ross wasn’t so eager to declare Stroman ready to return until checking his health after his start Sunday.
”Depending on scheduling, how it falls into place, there are ways we can bring him back as long as things go well,” Ross said.
For now, Thompson, 27, and Steele, 26,have provided hope as they settle into starting roles. Thompson has struck out 24 batters in 18 1/3 innings in his last three starts, and Steele has allowed two earned runs or fewer in four of his last five starts.
”They’re amazing,” Stroman said. ”Those are my buddies. I think they’re going to be legit. They’re learning. They’ve both been dealing, and I think those guys are going to be hopefully household names in the next few years as they progress.”