Hamstring strain could sideline Cubs’ Jake Arrieta for multiple starts

PITTSBURGH — Jake Arrieta’s hamstring injury could cost the playoff-minded Cubs two starts or more from their hottest pitcher down the stretch after an MRI on Tuesday revealed a Grade 1 strain in the right leg he hurt Monday.

“It’s better than it could have been,”
Arrieta said, adding he was told a common recovery period might be seven to 10 days. “It stinks to miss any time at all, but it should be short.”

The news reached Cubs officials just as the Pirates finished off a comeback 4-3 victory at PNC Park, giving the Cubs their third consecutive loss.

Kyle Hendricks, the 2016 ERA champ who pitched an impressive 6‰ innings Tuesday, said the Cubs are well equipped to handle Arrieta’s absence after dealing with injuries all season.

Arrieta with catcher Alex Avila in the third inning Monday.

All five starters from the opening rotation now have missed time to injury this season.

“I don’t know how much of that is a product of last year and what isn’t honestly,” said Hendricks, who retired 16 of 18 batters after giving up a two-run homer in the second. “This is the first time I’ve been through this so it seems like it was probably just from the long year last year, but it could just be an anomaly, could just be something happening this year.

“I think the adversity always makes you tougher.”

As Arrieta said, it could be worse.

The Cubs, who won six consecutive games before the recent skid, still lead second-place Milwaukee by 3½ games with 24 to play, including seven against the Brewers.

Opening Day starter Jon Lester is back from a recent stretch on the disabled list. And both Hendricks and John Lackey have pitched especially well since returning from their DL stints.

Hendricks has a 2.36 ERA in nine starts in the seven weeks since he returned from a hand injury.

“I think it’s good that if it had to happen, it was going to happen now,” said Arrieta, who went 7-2 with a 1.69 ERA in July and August. “It’s better than in a couple of weeks.”

Arrieta said he plans to work with the medical staff to develop a clearer plan for treatment and rehab and hopes to start throwing from a mound again in five or six days.

Because he has been pitching all season, he said the down time shouldn’t affect his ability to pick up where he left off in terms of endurance and delivery.

“Taking five or six days off of throwing is something I’ve done multiple times this late in the season anyways,” he said. “As far as arm strength goes, it might even help a little bit.”

Meanwhile, Mike Montgomery, who already had been pitching in Lester’s place in the rotation, takes Arrieta’s turn Saturday against the Brewers.

“Having Mikey in tow makes it a lot easier to go through a moment like this,” manager Joe Maddon said.

Arrieta felt the hamstring “grab” while pitching to the third batter of the third inning Monday and summoned the trainer to the mound. After stretching, he tried to throw a practice pitch but immediately stopped his delivery in pain.

The latest in a long list of injuries this season comes just as the Cubs appeared on the verge of making a run to close the season.

“We’ve gone through some good adversity,” Hendricks said. “After how last year went, we faced adversity in the playoffs a little bit and we got through that and it definitely made us tougher. I think that’s helped us face this adversity in the regular season. . . . This is going to help us going forward, hopefully in October.”

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

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