The road back to Chicago has been a long and winding one for Cubs right-handed reliever Rowan Wick. After getting back on the mound in a big-league game for the first time in nearly a year Tuesday, his recovery is one of the more unusual ones you’ll hear about.
“It’s really good to be back here and feeling like I can contribute,” Wick said before the game against the Brewers on Wednesday. “Watching from a distance kind of stinks. It’s good to be back and see some faces.”
Wick entered the season as a high-leverage option in the Cubs’ bullpen, but after the intercostal/left oblique injury that put him on the injured list in September 2020 resurfaced in spring training, his return was anything but guaranteed.
The intercostal muscle is in the rib cage, and it appeared the team had the issue under control entering the offseason, but once the pain returned in the spring, pinpointing the cause became more difficult, especially because it affected his entire left side.
Wick finally caught a break after months without throwing. After trying various treatments, including dry needling and cupping therapy, Wick’s pain finally subsided.
“It’s a rotating muscle, so I was using it a lot,” he said. “I was feeling that all the way until early May. I didn’t even pick up a baseball until late May. So it was just having to battle that every time I tried to throw. It would pull on me, and it was just not strong enough. I was able to put in a lot of work.
“After last year, then missing over four months this year was not where I wanted to be.”
Once the pain lessened, the road for Wick’s return to the majors began. He pitched a scoreless inning Tuesday in the Cubs’ 6-3 loss to the Brewers in his first appearance since Sept. 16, 2020.
“I think his résumé and the way he looked [Tuesday], I would definitely insert him into the back end of the bullpen, for sure,” manager David Ross said. “When you’re up and need a guy to come in and stop games, there’s definitely comfort in him pitching the ninth.
“But trying to use some of these back-end guys in moments where maybe it benefits us for a pocket in the order that we feel like sets them up well, yeah, we’re trying to balance that. . . . I thought he looked really good. The fastball seemed extremely deceptive.”
The bullpen was the Cubs’ biggest strength before the trade deadline with Andrew Chafin, Ryan Tepera and Craig Kimbrel. But with Wick back in the mix late in games along with young arms Manny Rodriguez and Codi Heuer, it remains an area of strength.
The trio has electric stuff, and seeing all three together and healthy will give the Cubs something to build off when putting together next year’s bullpen.
“Oh, man, those young arms out there; have you seen Manny?” Wick said with a chuckle. “He’s electric, dude. You just get him more reps. Those are some quality arms, for sure.”