Chicago Cubs closer Brandon Morrow has a loose timeline for his return from injury now. But can he be counted on to return and contribute soon?
He began his time on the North Side on a high note, collecting 22 saves with a 1.47 ERA. But then he was sidelined in mid-July with a biceps injury and ultimately never returned for the rest of 2018, leaving Pedro Strop with the closer duties down the stretch.
Early in the offseason, it became clear he wouldn’t be ready for Opening Day 2019, after having arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow. Now, it looks like there’s a somewhat clearer timeline for his return. Jordan Bastian of MLB.com tweeted on Monday that Morrow is set to throw his first bullpen post-surgery on March 25, assuming he has no setbacks between now and then. Bastian said that Morrow has thrown up to 120 feet in long toss and is looking to progress to 135 feet and 150 feet in the next couple of weeks.
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When will he be back?
Judging by the current timeline, it could still be a while before Morrow is back in game action in the regular season. If he throws his first bullpen in March, he could still be several weeks away when Opening Day arrives.
Until then, the Cubs will have to rely on Pedro Strop. Strop was a success as the Cubs’ closer in the second half of 2018. He had a 2.26 ERA and picked up 13 saves. But even if he’s a viable option, Morrow’s absence has a domino effect on the rest of the bullpen.
Last season, when Morrow was injured, few other arms could be trusted besides Strop, so when he wasn’t available to close, it was slim pickings as for who could take over the job. The addition of Brad Brach should help matters, but having Morrow around to close would strengthen the pen immensely.
Can he be trusted?
It’s not the first time Morrow has been sidelined for a long period of time due to injury. He’s thrown more than 35 innings in just one of the past five seasons. Meanwhile, Strop has thrown more than 40 innings in each of the past five seasons.
When Morrow’s been available, he’s been effective, as evidenced by the first half of last season. But in order for the Cubs to have gotten the full worth of his contract, he’ll need to be around a bit more this season.
The official timeline for Morrow’s first bullpen is a good sign that he’s on the road to a return. But he’s still got a long way to go before he can be trusted to be a mainstay in the bullpen in 2019.
Strop has proven that he’s a viable big league closer, and the Cubs could be much worse in the back end of their bullpen. But a return of a healthy Morrow could be a major boost for a bullpen that was thin and overworked when the 2018 season came to a close.