Craig Counsell being battle tested immediately to start his Cubs tenure

Chicago Cubs v Arizona Diamondbacks
Chicago Cubs v Arizona Diamondbacks / Norm Hall/GettyImages

Craig Counsell has had to flex his managerial muscles early in his first season as Cubs manager. Between injuries and bullpen issues, his working on the lineup and roster construction has been a constant game of adjustments and rearranging. Luckily, if there is a manager to trust in these kinds of situations, Counsell is high on that list.

This weekend the Cubs got put starter Jordan Wicks was going on the IL due to a forearm strain. While there is hope that this is not the type of long-term issue that forearm injuries often come with (Tommy John), it's still another key player added to the IL. On top of that, Justin Steele has been on the IL with the hamstring injury he suffered on Opening Night, Seiya Suzuki is dealing with his oblique injury, Cody Bellinger suffered a rib fracture last week, Julian Merryweather has a rib stress fracture and Drew Smyly has hip issues. Not to mention the Cubs were without Jameson Taillon for the first few weeks. Technically, Kyle Hendricks is also on the IL, but that is another story.

The other challenge has been the bullpen. After blowing multiple saves early, Counsell has yanked Adbert Alzolay from the ninth-inning role (Counsell does not like the term "closer") and is evaluating other avenues. One of the obvious choices to step in would have been Merryweather, had he not gotten hurt. We have seen a shaky Héctor Neris get the ninth lately but the long-term solution is still up in the air. Injuries and struggles in middle relief have also been challenging for Counell and the Cubs to figure out. Smyly is on the IL, Jose Cuas struggled before being sent down and Javier Assad has been needed in the rotation. Counsell's plugging in of guys like Hayden Wesneski and Keegan Thompson to eat innings in the pen has been huge so far. Overall, Counsell has had to work hard to get his bullpen to cobble together the last 10-12 outs of a game.

Counsell has also had to mix and plug-in guys in his lineup and rotation with all the injuries. It's been a mix of matchup lineups, spot starts, and bullpen days. Four of his starting pitchers have or had an IL stint and it's a month before Memorial Day. It's also hard when your team MVP (Suzuki) is out and Bellinger goes down just as he was beginning to look like himself again. These injuries have required the services of prospects Pete Crow-Armstrong and Alexander Canario on the position side, while Ben Brown has been used in multiple roles on the pitching end. It's a great opportunity for these prospects to show what they have at the MLB level, it's just tougher to put pressure on kids to come step in and replace the production of seasoned veterans.

Dealing with injuries is something all teams do, and figuring out bullpens is tough with how fickle relievers can be. However, the Cubs have had a high number of key injuries, and having to pull the closer from his role so early is never ideal. Counsell is doing what he can to get the production he needs with what he has. It's much easier said than done and that is why he is getting the big bucks. Hopefully, this is something Counsell has to work extra hard at in April/May and not September/October.