The Cubs’ stretch drive to the playoffs just hit its first pothole with the revelation Thursday that setup reliever Pedro Strop is expected to miss the next four to six weeks because of torn meniscus in his left knee.
Strop, one of the Cubs’ top late-inning options, suffered the injury fielding a ball hit near the third-base line in Wednesday’s game. He’s scheduled for arthroscopic surgery Friday.
“It’s never fun not having him around, but it could have been worse,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We’re going to get him back. In some ways we’re lucky.”
Strop’s injury magnifies the day-to-day triceps injury that has sidelined former closer Hector Rondon much of the past week.
Rondon, the right-hander with the 1.70 ERA who moved into a 97-mph eighth-inning role with the acquisition of Aroldis Chapman, plans to throw a “light” bullpen session Friday, then be evaluated again.
“After that I think I’m going to be ready,” said Rondon, who anticipates a best-case scenario of returning Saturday or Sunday.
Right-hander Justin Grimm was recalled from Class AAA Iowa just two days after his latest option to the minors, and Maddon expects him to pick up some of the late-inning load in Strop’s absence.
“We’ve got so much talent in this locker room so it’s going to be interesting,” said Grimm, who hasn’t allowed a run in six second-half appearances after a tough first half. “But I just know I can help. That’s how I feel. Bottom line is I’m here, and I know what I’m capable of doing.”
Recently acquired right-hander Joe Smith will play a large role in covering the loss, too, said Maddon, who plans to play a lot of late-inning matchups with his pen until Strop returns.
“It’s still a really strong bullpen,” Maddon said. “We’re trying to build to that ninth inning with the lead, and we can still do that. We’re going to miss [Strop] though. Stropy’s that guy that I feel really good against the other team’s best hitters all the time.”
Strop said he felt a “pop” but no sharp pain when he first injured the knee. But then he couldn’t’ straighten the leg as he tried to walk back to the mound. He left the game after the lone batter faced.
“After I saw I couldn’t walk, I was just thinking, `Man, I’m going to be out for the season; this is a really [serious] injury,’ “ said Strop, who has a 2.89 ERA in 50 appearances and 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings. “I almost cried just thinking I might be out for the season. This is a really special group that I want to be part of in the playoffs and the World Series if we get there.
“It’s good to know I’m going to be back next month and I’m going to keep helping this team be able to win a World Series.”