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MESA, Ariz. — The beginning of spring training is here. Baseball is officially back. After a long layoff, it feels like things could hardly get better in baseball right now.
Well, behind the sunshine of the return of baseball is always the sad but unavoidable news of offseason injuries, and Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer had a couple to reveal to the media assembled in front of him Monday morning.
“Ian Happ had surgery on his (right) elbow in February. Kind of a clean-up, loose body-type of thing in his elbow,” Hoyer said. “He feels really good. He’s hitting. I think it doesn’t bother him hitting at all. Throwing looks good. He’s very confident he’ll be ready by Opening Day, but certainly, he may be not in the field quite as much as usual in the beginning.”
Not the type of news Cubs fans want to hear, but at least there’s some optimism there.
“And then Adbert (Alzolay), he has had some (right) shoulder tightness,” Hoyer said. “Still trying to figure out the extent of it, but we expect he’s gonna start the season on the (IL), and I don’t think it’s gonna be a minimum (IL) stint.”
Well, that’s a doozy of a piece of injury news.
Alzolay already had a couple of stints on the injured list last season, which is why the Cubs ended up moving him to the bullpen at the beginning of September. He had solid numbers in eight appearances as a reliever, but he was still expected to compete for one of the last two starting spots in 2022.
Hoyer didn’t give any specifics on when the tightness began or what Alzolay’s recovery timeline looks like, but it sounds like it could be a while until he’s back on the bump.
“Anytime you lose someone, it’s terrible, but a guy like Adbert, it’s big, for sure,” Kyle Hendricks said. “He’s a big part of what we do. I was so excited just the development, kind of what he did last year. I was excited for the year he was gonna have, but he’s such a hard worker and he’s had something similar in the past, so hopefully he can come back quick.
“I know whenever he’s healthy and he’s back, he’ll be himself again. So I’m not worried, just excited for him to come back in the middle of the year or whenever it happens to be.”
That wasn’t the type of revelation Cubs fans wanted at camp, but all Chicago can do now is figure out how to fill the newest hole in the pitching staff.
“We just adjust,” manager David Ross said. “There’s a lot of good arms in camp. We’ll take a look at some guys, and we’ve got some good, young arms coming. You guys got to see some of those guys last year, and let them kind of fight for some of those spots where Adbert was kind of penciled in.”
How will the Cubs address the DH?
The DH is officially in the National League, and now comes time for the Cubs to figure out who to put in that spot. The traditionalists might hate it, but in reality, it could help Chicago strategize in different ways.
“It gives us some more flexibility, right?” Ross said. “That helps so many areas, just from the pitching side. When guys are out there rolling, you let them go. I plan to use it and be flexible with it, try to keep guys fresh.”
So who might he plan to use as a DH in-season? Will there be an everyday DH? Is Willson Contreras going to DH on his non-catching days?
“Willson’s definitely a guy that’ll see some time there with Yan (Gomes) here and his experience,” Ross said. “Having two quality catches like we did in ’20 with him and Vic (Caratini) was a luxury, and I feel like we have another luxury there with some depth there, two really good players. We’ll be flexible with it. Give guys days off, see who’s maybe got some bumps or bruises. Can give a guy like Happ or somebody like that some days there. I’m sure that’ll be an ever-changing spot of who’s swinging the bat well and who needs rest.”
OK, got it. Sounds like the Cubs aren’t looking to use an everyday DH at the moment, which could be beneficial since Chicago will always have a ninth bat in the lineup now. But still, those pitchers who won’t be hitting anymore are probably going to miss it, right?
“I wish I could say yes, but I think you guys have seen what I’m featuring up there,” Hendricks said. “I’m very happy to put the bat in somebody else’s hands, just worry about pitching.”
Professor on the bump
Hendricks threw a live bullpen before he spoke to the media, facing off against the likes of Frank Schwindel, Patrick Wisdom and Sergio Alcántara.
The news isn’t that Hendricks was striking anyone out or was giving up home runs to the hitters, but really, it’s just that he’s back throwing live BP in Mesa, Arizona. That’s something he didn’t get to do during the lockout, not even when he was training at the facility the MLBPA set up.
“Felt really good,” he said of pitching to live hitters again. “Just felt under control mentally, not moving too quick. Just trying to focus down in the zone. Last year, I felt like I was so flat, everything was up over the plate. So I put a huge focus on back to getting an angle down in the zone, fastball command, just back to kind of my staples. I was focused on that today, and it was really good so far.”
I’ve written already about how the Cubs need Hendricks to be “The Professor” in 2022. Now that the lockout is over, he’ll get the chance to finally ramp up around his teammates and coaches and get ready for what he hopes will be a resurgent campaign — and maybe another Opening Day start?
“He’s in the mix,” Ross said.
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