During the first inning of his start Monday night in the 6-5 loss to the Reds, Marcus Stroman was already feeling it like he was pitching in the eighth or ninth inning.
A hip issue he said he’d been feeling “for a bit now” — he didn’t specify exactly when it started — had disrupted him to the point where he felt like “I had zero lower half” in that game. He could feel himself working much harder than normal early on and was “essentially just throwing all upper body and arms.” He ended up lasting just three innings (his second-shortest start of the season) before coming out of the game.
Though there wasn’t a singular moment that caused the ailment, Monday was when he and the Cubs felt he needed a break to address it.
“It just progressively got more pinchy to the point where it was really uncomfortable to sit and to be in a seated position where my hip is kind of in that flexion, which kind of relates to my delivery and lifting my leg,” Stroman said. “It all kind of correlates. It just got to the point where I was doing too much with my upper body and trying to do so much without having the lower half. I just felt it becoming very problem some, so just address it now and go from there.”
The Cubs placed Stroman on the 15-day injured list with right hip inflammation Wednesday (retroactive to Tuesday), giving him what he expects to be enough time to get back to where he needs to be.
After spending the first three months of the season looking like one of the best pitchers in baseball — he earned his second career All-Star nod — Stroman has hit a rough patch over the last month. He recorded 14 quality starts in his first 16 outings, but he had just one quality start in his last games. Starting with his outing against the Cardinals in London, Stroman has recorded a 9.00 ERA in his last seven starts, raising his season ERA from 2.28 to 3.85 in the process.
Anyone who has watched Stroman during an outing and in between starts knows how detail-oriented he is about his process. That involves making sure he’s mechanically sound. But the impact from the hip injury caused him to try and work around it by messing with his mechanics, and the resulting issues on the mound were a sign that doing so wasn’t the right way to go about improving.
“Beyond frustrating,” Stroman said of his recent struggles, “because I do so much in between starts to get right and to focus on things. When everything you’re doing is not fixing it, I feel like I just had to go to the root of the problem rather than trying to get around it.”
Stroman said he got a cortisone shot Wednesday and will take a couple days off before getting into a strength and stability program. While he works with the trainers to return to full health as the Cubs attempt to make a playoff push — they bought at the trade deadline after all — manager David Ross and the coaching staff are working on a plan for the rotation in his absence.
Stroman is eligible to come off the IL on Aug. 16. The Cubs have three off days (Aug. 10, 14 and 17) over the next couple of weeks. They’re hopeful Stroman only has to miss one start (Cubs would need a fill-in starter Saturday against the Braves) as they can adjust the rotation to skip his next couple of turns and, in theory, may not need a fifth starter again until Aug. 22.
“I think it just was best for everybody,” Ross said. “Stro can get back into a sound mechanical delivery and him feeling good, working on a few things and also making sure he’s completely healthy when he does set foot on the bump again.”
Regardless of how long he remains out, Stroman is confident this break will help him right the ship for the stretch run of the season.
“I’m not even slightly worried,” Stroman said. “I know after this, I’m going to feel strong. I’m going to get on a program with the trainers, and I should be right [back] to where I was.”
And for anyone who thought Stroman’s struggles stemmed from the trade deadline rumors surrounding him in July, he made it clear that wasn’t the case.
“To be completely honest, I just had a bad month, which we all go through,” Stroman said. “I truly don’t think it was correlated to the trade deadline. I’m in a great space, mentally. I have a great circle around me. I love it here, but I was also very conscious of how the deadline works, and I’m not someone who’s scared of it or I wasn’t in a position where I was going to be in a super negative place if I were to get traded.
“So yeah, I think I just had a bad month. I think that’s all it was.”
Cuas arrives in Chicago
To fill Stroman’s spot on the 26-man roster, José Cuas joined the club at Wrigley Field on Wednesday.
The Cubs officially acquired the 29-year-old right-handed pitcher from the Royals in a deal for Nelson Velázquez just before Stroman threw out the first pitch of Monday’s game. At the time, it was unclear if Cuas — who’d appeared in 45 games for Kansas City this season after making his debut last summer — would start his Cubs career with the big league team or with Triple-A Iowa. But with Stroman hitting the shelf and the Cubs looking to add some depth in the bullpen to cover some innings, they decided to add Cuas right to the active roster.
“It’s been wild,” Cuas said of the last couple days. “The phone calls. My family’s excited. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t see this coming at all. But I’m just excited. Ready to jump on board and help out.”
Cuas didn’t get to speak to the coaching staff about his role, specifically, before he met with the media Wednesday afternoon, but Ross did say he isn’t expecting to put Cuas in leverage situations right away.
Cuas has an intriguing delivery, throwing more from a sidearm slot (similar to former Cub Scott Effross). He had mostly relied on a sinker-slider combination in his short big league career, but he incorporated more four-seam fastballs into his mix over the last month, to the point that it was his most thrown pitch in July (39.3 percent of his pitches were four-seamers last month, per Statcast).
“I use it a lot more as of late,” Cuas said. “It’s been a huge help to me, a great add to my arsenal. I still don’t have the full confidence in it that I would like, but the more I throw it, the more confidence I build in it. I know it’s a good pitch. I’ve gotten good results on it so far, and I’m excited to keep throwing it.”
Cuas has one of those feel-good stories, too. His baseball journey started with him being drafted by the Brewers as an infielder in 2015 and converted to a pitcher after 2017. From there, he’s had stints in the Diamondbacks system and in independent league ball, and he even spent time delivering packages with FedEx before he finally broke through with the Royals the last two years. And now, he’s hoping that journey leads to success with the Cubs.
“A couple years ago I was delivering packages for FedEx, and now I’m here in the midst of a trade, jumping on board a team that’s trying to accomplish a postseason push,” Cuas said. “A lot of mixed emotions. I can’t tell you in one word what I’m feeling right now, just excited to get out there and show these fans what I can do.”