The Cubs aren’t putting a timetable on ace Jon Lester’s return from a hamstring injury this early in the season.
And by recalling left-hander Tim Collins from the minors to add to the bullpen, they’re set up to use days off to go with a four-man rotation and nine-man bullpen for at least two weeks after Sunday.
Tyler Chatwood, who lost his starting job last summer because of bad command, makes his first start since Aug. 18 in Lester’s place Sunday. It’s the last time the Cubs will need someone to start for Lester until at least April 27.
“We’re just going to play this as we go along,” manager Joe Maddon said Wednesday, when the team put Lester on the 10-day injured list after an MRI Tuesday confirmed the left hamstring strain.
“We’re not going to create a finish line,” Maddon added. “Jon’s a pretty tough individual. We’re just going to keep it open-ended, and as he progresses, we’ll try to create a finish line.”
Lester wasn’t available in the clubhouse before the game.
“It’s tough. That’s our main guy here,” Anthony Rizzo said before the game against the Pirates. “He’s in good spirits. I just saw him and he feels good; he feels really good. I’m sure he’ll be pushing to get back on the field sooner rather than later.”
The good news for the Cubs is that the injury doesn’t seem serious and that it’s early in the season.
The not so good news: Lester is by far the top-performing pitcher on the staff since the beginning of the season, and his absence comes at a time the Cubs are trying to claw out from a 3-7 start.
“We know it’s obviously unfortunate losing him,” said Kyle Hendricks, who starts Saturday against the Angels. “He’s been our guy. He’s been our ace. We know we have to pick up some of the slack. …
“But we hope it’s just quick and we can get him back and rolling again.”
Meanwhile, the Cubs will operate with a nine-man bullpen for much of Lester’s absence, and Maddon mentioned that a rainout in the next two weeks could allow the option to continue with a four-man rotation into the first homestand of May.
One pitcher to keep an eye on is left-hander Mike Montgomery, the swingman who played a huge role last year with a career-high 19 starts.
He’s on the injured list with a “mild” lat strain and said he felt good during a long-toss session Wednesday. He said he hopes to throw off a mound Thursday, and suggested that if the progress continues he might be ready to return Monday when he’s eligible to be activated.
Collins, 29, was signed the final week of spring training after being released by the Twins, then optioned to Class AAA Iowa.
He made three relief appearances for Iowa, allowing one run with three strikeouts and one walk.
After struggling through the first eight games, the bullpen took a 12-inning scoreless streak into Wednesday’s game.
Hendricks downplayed the added urgency for the rest of the rotation with Lester out.
“Every day we come in here there’s a sense of urgency, just wanting to attack today,” Hendricks said. “Attack today and win today no matter who we’re going out there with.”