Twenty-two saves and a whole lot of tough luck — that’s what the Cubs’ relationship with reliever Brandon Morrow amounts to in the end.
Morrow, 35, will miss the rest of the season after another setback in his attempted recovery from lingering elbow trouble. He will require surgery on the same radial nerve in his right arm that has hampered him during a career that at times has been outstanding.
This almost certainly marks the end of Morrow’s time with the Cubs, for whom he last pitched before the 2018 All-Star break. It could mark the end of his career.
“It’s disappointing,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s unfortunate for him and for us. I’ve seen the guy [be] so good. A lot of teams have. What he could’ve done for us would’ve been very special, but it just didn’t want to happen.”
Morrow converted 22 of 24 save chances in a sparkling 2018 first half after signing a two-year, $21 million free-agent deal. The Cubs’ intent was to keep the fireballing setup man — who’d pitched in all seven games of the 2017 World Series — fresh so he’d be at full strength for the playoffs. It was what team president Theo Epstein called a “calculated risk.”
“You look back, maybe we should’ve had even more conservative guidelines with him,” Epstein said. “Or maybe there was nothing we could do. It’s impossible to say.
“When you sign somebody like that, you know [you’re] going to get quality when he’s out there. But there’s a risk of not getting the quantity, and that burdened us for the last year and a half — and that’s on me.”
An able stable
The Morrow news didn’t come as a jolt to a team that was plenty used to being without him. What’s impressive about the Cubs’ bullpen is that it has functioned at a reasonably high level despite four top members — Steve Cishek, Craig Kimbrel, Brandon Kintzler and Pedro Strop —spending time on the injured list in recent weeks.
Even while juggling roles, Cubs relievers had a combined ERA of 3.42 in 21 games from July 28 through Aug. 20, the second-lowest bullpen mark in the National League during that span. Only the Cardinals (3.05) have been better.
Then again, this is the same pen that has blown 23 saves.
“It’s been a long and winding road to get to this point,” Epstein said. “We’ve had some nice stories. Now it’s on us to kind of synthesize them, put them all together and have a pennant-caliber bullpen the rest of the way.”
All-Star catcher Willson Contreras, who has missed 16 games since injuring his right hamstring, performed strengthening exercises on the field Wednesday before the game against the Giants. There was no real baseball work, though. That could start within the next few days, with a rehab assignment still to follow.
Nutshell: It’ll still be awhile.
Maddon seized the chance to publicly wish Loyola’s Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt a happy 100th birthday.
“And when you get a chance, come back out and see us,” he said. “And I still owe you a ride with the basketball team in the ’85 Olds station wagon.”