Cubs

Cubs seek October options in Morrow-less pen, add former starter Jaime Garcia

MILWAUKEE – Think the Cubs are concerned about what their postseason bullpen will look like with closer Brandon Morrow the roster’s biggest unsolved variable in September?

After quietly signing veteran left-hander Jaime Garcia to a minor-league deal Friday, the Cubs added him to the big-league roster on Tuesday to join a mix that also includes recent acquisitions Jesse Chavez, Brandon Kintzler and Jorge De La Rosa.

And salivating in the wings for a chance to pitch before the end of the season is rehabbing left-hander Drew Smyly, who looked “outstanding” during a live batting practice session Tuesday, according to manager Joe Maddon.

Five months into the season, the Cubs still have the second-best bullpen ERA (3.22) in the National League.

Garcia was released by the Blue Jays last week.

But shutdown closer Morrow hasn’t pitched since before the All-Star break, and has thrown from a mound only once since then, three weeks ago.

As they give a bone bruise in his elbow as much time as possible to subside, they walk a fine line of timing for getting him back on the mound in time to be sharp for the playoffs. And even if that happens, they have no way to predict how effective he’ll be or how often they’ll be able to use the shutdown reliever who pitched all seven games of the World Series for the Dodgers.

“It’s always good to have other guys available. The depth is always interesting,” said Maddon, who lauded a lefty side of his bullpen that includes Justin Wilson, Randy Rosario and De La Rosa.

“And then if these guys add depth and you get to the playoffs, then you have to make decisions regarding numbers and where those guys are going to be,” he said. “It’s a greater pool to work from. And then, again, it’s also not just about this year but it could be about the future, too. These are quality guys.”

It could be the critical decisions left to make between now and October, assuming the rotation continues to perform even reasonably well – and assuming they make it.

Without Morrow, Carl Edwards Jr. and Wilson are the only members of the pen with histories of swing-and-miss performance – the kind of pitchers that shut down the end of playoff clinchers, that become postseason linchpins in an age of four- and five-inning playoff starts.

Garcia, 32, has been inconsistent and injury-hampered much of his career since a top-three Rookie of the Year finish for the Cardinals in 2010.

He was 3-6 with a 5.93 ERA this year before being released last week by the Blue Jays, including a 4.86 ERA and 1.154 WHIP in 12 relief appearances – his first extended career stretch as a reliever.

“He’s had a lot of success at the major-league level,” said Maddon, who talked about upper-80s velocity and a good changeup during a bullpen session Tuesday. “We’ve moved him to the bullpen. It’s kind of an interesting concept. He said it doesn’t take him long to warm up. We’ll see how it all works out.”

Perhaps most intriguing is the progress of Smyly, who was signed last December during the strengthening process of his rehab from Tommy John surgery.

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The original plan included the possibility of September bullpen work, until last month, when he didn’t recover quickly from bullpen work.

But that changed quickly in his rehab appearance at Class A South Bend last week and then Tuesday’s session.

“It’s a big jump from low-A to the major leagues, but I feel capable,” said Smyly, who has made it clear to the team he wants to pitch but knows it’s not his decision. “I feel ready. For the first time in a while I don’t feel limited, and that’s a great feeling go have on the mound, when you feel you can have all your weapons.

“I could keep throwing live BPs, but sooner or later you’re going to have to throw me out there or say no.”