Julian Merryweather injury comes at a less-than-ideal time for the Cubs

The veteran right-hander will miss a minimum of one month before being re-evaluated.
Chicago Cubs v Texas Rangers
Chicago Cubs v Texas Rangers / Stacy Revere/GettyImages

Talk about poor timing. Watching the Chicago Cubs blow a lead in a way unlike anything we've seen in decades on Monday night certainly doesn't feel any better when paired with the troubling update on Julian Merryweather's injury.

A rib stress fracture in his back will shelve Merryweather for a minimum of four weeks, at which point he'll be re-evaluated. A best-case scenario feels like a late May return, leaving Craig Counsell without one of his team's most effective relievers from a year ago.

Cubs bullpen suffers a tough blow with Julian Merryweather injury

"Candidly, we were hoping it'd be a shorter stay on the IL," Jed Hoyer said on Monday. "It's a little worse diagnosis than we had imagined and we'll just have to get through it."

Last season, Merryweather had the best year of his career, making 69 appearances and working to a 3.52 FIP and 12.3 K/9. He was off to a solid start in four early season appearances here in 2024, but Counsell will now be tasked with replacing his workload. The team recalled right-hander Daniel Palencia from Triple-A Iowa as a corresponding move.

The loss feels particularly heavy given the immense struggles of Yency Almonte, Jose Cuas and Hector Neris. Almonte, who came over along with Michael Busch from the Dodgers this winter, has made 4 appearances and has allowed four earned runs. Cuas has coughed up five earned in four outings and Neris, the team's big-name relief addition, has been ineffective, as well. All three have allowed an opponent batting average north of .300 in the early going.

"Julian is a valuable reliever on this team," Counsell told MLB.com. "It's one where you've kind of got to close the hole around him and a lot of people are going to have to fill into that spot. It's a significant loss, for sure. His versatility, just the quality that he brought, is going to be missed."

Even during camp, Counsell singled out learning the ins and outs of the pitching staff as his top early season challenge. He's certainly battling through that now, especially in the pen, while also piecing together a starting rotation without Justin Steele and Jameson Taillon. The offense has helped keep the Cubs above water to this point, but they'll need some more consistency out of the pen moving forward if they want to keep pace in the NL Central in April.