Cubs’ Marcus Stroman diagnosed with rib cartilage fracture; timeline uncertain

Stroman was expected to start Wednesday against the White Sox before feeling discomfort in his ribs.

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The Cubs don’t know when pitcher Marcus Stroman will return from a rib injury.

The Cubs don’t know when pitcher Marcus Stroman will return from a rib injury.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

The Cubs received bad news when they got back Marcus Stroman’s diagnosis. They just aren’t sure how bad.

Imaging done Monday showed that Stroman fractured the cartilage on the right side of his ribs. He won’t resume baseball activities until he’s symptom-free.

“How long that takes, nobody really knows,” manager David Ross said. “So it’s kind of just up in the air.”

Could Stroman be out for the season?

“I have no idea,” president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. “That’s the honest truth. We don’t really know at this point. . . . It’s not a real common pitching injury. I’ve never seen that before, so for me to speculate would be just false at this point. We’ll just rest, and hopefully he feels better and hopefully comes back and pitches really well.”

As recently as Stroman’s bullpen session Sunday, he was expected to start against the White Sox on Wednesday. Instead, right-hander Javier Assad held the Sox to three runs (two earned) in six innings. The Cubs beat the Sox 4-3 with a walk-off three-run home run from Christopher Morel.

With three days off in eight days, the Cubs temporarily went to a four-man rotation, but they’ll need a fifth starter. Ross said he was leaning “pretty heavily” toward bringing Drew Smyly back from the bullpen to reclaim his starting role.

“We saw what he’s capable of the first couple of months of the year,” starting pitcher Jameson Taillon said of Stroman, who was one of the best pitchers in the league early this season, “and what that can do to a team, especially when we’re competing for a playoff spot. But at the same time, I’ve been the hurt guy plenty, and I just know the game moves on. And you’ve got to find a way to cover those innings the best you can.

“You probably can’t replace a Stroman quality of innings, but you’ve got to find a way to piece games together and put together quality innings. So it’s just going to be another test for this team, and guys are going to have to step up, myself included.”

The Cubs’ rotation has a track record of doing just that this season as every starter except Justin Steele has spent time on the injured list — in Kyle Hendricks’ case, to start the season — or in a slump.

“That’s just depth,” Ross said.

Stroman was dealing with a combination of the two the last six weeks. He said he felt off mechanically. And inflammation in his right hip exacerbated the problem. Dating back to when he left his start in London with a blister on his finger, Stroman had a 9.00 ERA in his last seven starts. The pain in his hip eventually got bad enough that a 15-day injured-list stint became the obvious next step.

During that time, Taillon found his rhythm, Assad stepped up and the offense went on a hot streak to pick up the slack.

The Cubs will have to find a way to maintain the momentum while they’re without Stroman for longer than expected.

Stroman first reported the discomfort in his ribs later in the day Sunday, according to the Cubs.

“We didn’t know if it was muscular, if it was skeletal, if it was indigestion,” Hoyer said. “We didn’t know what it was. We had no idea at that point.”

He had an MRI exam after the team got back from Toronto.

“Bad news,” Ross said, “but Assad’s been pitching good, somebody will step up and pitch well and we’ll keep this train rolling. And I know he’ll work his way back and try to help us out.”

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