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Cubs starter Cole Hamels heads to injured list after leaving 6-3 loss to Reds with oblique strain

The Cubs expect to beef up a taxed bullpen with two additions Saturday, which likely means the end of Carlos Gonzalez’s brief run as a Cub.

New York Mets v Chicago Cubs
Hamels in his previous start against the Mets.
Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

CINCINNATI — You can add one more injury to insult when it comes to the Cubs’ growing series of road hazards.

This time it was an injury to starter

Cole Hamels, who’s headed to the injured list Saturday after straining his left oblique during the first inning of Friday night’s 6-3 loss to the Reds in Cincinnati.

“I tore my [right] oblique a couple years ago, and that was completely different — that’s the one where you feel like you just got shot,” said Hamels, who felt his left side grab while pitching to the final batter of the first inning, then felt it again after throwing one warmup pitch before the second. “I really thought this was more of a cramp, and then I continued to throw the next two pitches, and it still was lingering.”

Neither Hamels nor the Cubs suggested a timeline for his return. He missed two months in 2017 with the other oblique injury and said he thinks this one is less severe. But he cautioned that he came back too early the first time and struggled.

“That’s not going to be a good scenario to repeat that,” Hamels said. He said he plans to make sure he’s ready to perform like he has over the last month, “so that I can make a difference. Otherwise, it’s a waste.”

Hamels (6-3), who finished with a 1.22 ERA for June even after allowing a run in his one inning Friday, is to have an MRI exam before the Cubs map out a rehab plan.

With a bullpen taxed by four days of heavy use, the Cubs are expected to recall two pitchers from Class AAA Iowa for Saturday’s game. Tony Barnette, who was just sent out to make room for closer Craig Kimbrel on the roster, could be in the mix, and hard-throwing Dillon Maples has been pitching especially well for nearly three weeks.

Creating the second roster spot likely involves moving outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, who had hugs and quiet conversations with several teammates in a subdued clubhouse after the Cubs’ 11th loss in their last 14 road games.

“Hopefully [Hamels’ injury isn’t] serious, because we’re definitely going to need him,” said Mike Montgomery, who got the call in the bullpen on short notice and gave up five runs in 2⅓ innings, including Phillip Ervin’s solo homer on the first pitch after Hamels left.

“There’s a whole lot of season left,” Montgomery added, “and I don’t think the guys in here will hang their heads from that.”

It’s the second injury to a hot Cubs starter in their last four road games. Kyle Hendricks, who went on the injured list after shoulder inflammation flared up in a June 14 start in Los Angeles, was 6-0 with a 1.99 ERA in his previous eight starts before that.

Hendricks, who has progressed quickly since a cortisone shot last week, was scheduled for a bullpen session Saturday in Cincinnati, after which a decision was expected on a possible minor-league rehab start that could put him on track to return during the Cubs-White Sox series next weekend.

A day off next Friday, just three days before the four-day All-Star break, should help mitigate the short-term issue of covering for Hamels. The Cubs already slotted rookie Adbert Alzolay for another start Monday in the series opener at Pittsburgh, which sent Tyler Chatwood back to the bullpen after Thursday’s shaky start.

Yu Darvish is scheduled for Tuesday. Jose Quintana had been pushed back in the rotation but could be moved back up to Wednesday to cover Hamels’ spot.

Chatwood is available for either of those Hamels/Quintana days.

“It’s great to be able to still have [Alzolay] here, and even Chatty,” Hamels said. “And we’re going to get Kyle very quickly. Hopefully, things just line up and can work accordingly, and I’m not missed as much.”