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Ethan Roberts' IL stint is another learning experience, plus more Cubs injury updates

Ryan Herrera Avatar
May 6, 2022

As Ethan Roberts went to change out of his uniform following his eighth-inning appearance on April 29 against the Brewers, he discovered that he couldn’t get the jersey off his throwing arm. There was pain in his right shoulder, enough that it made it difficult to lift that arm in order to maneuver it out of the jersey.

“Just kind of got to that point after that last outing,” Roberts told CHGO this week. “I went to take my jersey off and I couldn’t even take my jersey off my right arm, so I was like, ‘I got to go say something.'”

By then, Roberts said, it had been at least a couple of weeks since he’d started to feel some soreness. But as a rookie pitcher who’d just made his first Opening Day roster only a few weeks before that, he wanted to believe it was something he could just pitch through.

That’s easier said than done at the big league level, though. Roberts said that in Triple-A, with the amount of pitchers on the roster (22 as of Friday), “It’s like we’re throwing once every two weeks.” And with 16 different pitchers having thrown in relief for Iowa at various points this season, that’s probably not totally inaccurate.

But the Cubs had only carried 15 pitchers on its roster through the first few weeks of the season, and starting Monday, teams were limited to 14 pitchers on their staffs. With a smaller selection of pitchers for manager David Ross to choose from, there was no way Roberts would have that much time in between his own appearances.

Roberts threw in nine of the Cubs’ first 20 games. In the four contests from April 26-29, Roberts made appearances is three, including his first back-to-back on April 28 in Atlanta and April 29 in Milwaukee. After that final outing — when, per Statcast, the average velocity on his cutter dropped 1.8 mph — Roberts did some strength and stability tests. Those didn’t go as hoped, and he ultimately landed on the 10-day injured list on Sunday (retroactive to Saturday) with right shoulder inflammation.

“It was like I was trying to pitch through stuff, and I probably shouldn’t have,” Roberts said.

As of now, the Cubs don’t think it’s too serious. Roberts said he’s already feeling better, and both he and Ross have indicated that his IL placement is more out of precaution while the team treats his inflamed shoulder.

“More cautious than anything, because you just never know,” Roberts said. “Like, you’d hate to push a guy to day to day and keep him throwing, and he’s got some kind of tear. You know what I mean? Everybody is different, everybody’s body is different, everybody’s situation is different.”

Said Ross: “We brought him along slowly and put him in some leverage spots and some non-leverage spots. His first back-to-back, he didn’t come out of it as good as we would’ve liked, and maybe that’s just some wear and tear or maybe that’s just getting used to that spot. I’m not a doctor, I can’t diagnose all that, but I don’t think it’s anything that we’re super alarmed about. We just need to calm down some of that inflammation.”

Over those nine appearances, Roberts has been inconsistent. He’s shown flashes of being a bullpen weapon with a slider that has the second-most inches of horizontal movement (21.1, per Statcast) and the highest horizontal movement versus average (10.3) among qualified major league arms, and the pitch has had its fair share of screen time from Pitching Ninja on Twitter. However, he ended his first month in the big leagues with an 8.22 ERA, a 2.09 WHIP and a .323 opponents average over his first 7 2/3 innings.

He might be having more success in the minors, but there’s something to be said about learning from those challenges at the highest level in baseball.

“You want to have good ones, right?” Roberts said. “Everybody wants have their success, but it is a challenge. You got to be at your best every time, you got to feel your best every time. You can say you just go out there and pitch, but it’s the big leagues. It’s hard. Just learning all that is kind of what I’ve grasped over this first month or so.”

Still, through all of those lessons, one of the biggest that he’s learned is that, when he feels something, he needs to say something.

It’s completely understandable that a rookie pitcher would want to pitch through some discomfort. You finally get your first taste of the big leagues, you finally get a chance to pitch in a Major League Baseball game, and then all of a sudden you’re hurting. No rookie wants to go through that right out of the gate.

So no, it’s not a surprise that Roberts tried to pitch through it. But now, he said, he knows that getting things taken care of right away is the best course of action.

“That’s just something that, as a player, you want to be on the field and you want to play,” Roberts said. “That’s something that, having to learn to communicate with your staff, telling them when you feel it, where you feel it and getting their help. That’s what they’re here for.”

****

The Cubs hadn’t yet announced Wade Miley’s rehab assignment Tuesday afternoon, but in talking to him pregame that day, it was obvious how excited he was to get started.

Miley began the season on the injured list with left elbow inflammation without even making an appearance in spring training. He’d had a slow build during camp regardless, but the inflammation forced the Cubs to shut him down and keep him on the shelf to start the year.

Miley then slowly ramped up through the first month of the season. He’d been throwing bullpens and live batting practice, and he said during his most recent live session, he got up to roughly 50 game pitches (which was more like 75 when taking into account warm ups). On Tuesday, Miley discussed some of his goals for the first outing of his upcoming rehab assignment.

“I would like to get three, maybe four ups. I think that’d be really good,” Miley said regarding how many innings he’d like to throw his first time out. “If I’m rolling, (then) get to five ups, but the ups and downs is the most important thing. It’s not so much the pitch count. It’s the sitting, getting up, sitting, getting up, sitting, getting up. I’m hoping for three to four. That would be great.”

On Thursday, Miley finally got that chance to take the mound in a game for the first time in the Cubs organization. With Triple-A Iowa, Miley started at St. Paul and lasted four innings (the amount of “ups” he wanted to get to), gave up just two hits and struck out three.

Considering how slowly they took his initial ramp up in spring, the Cubs won’t rush Miley back. Though he looked solid in his debut outing, it all depends on how he feels in the days after. As of now, there’s no timetable for his return, but expect there to be at least a couple more rehab starts in his immediate future.

“I’ve been trying to maybe push it a little bit in the last couple of weeks, and they’ve probably grabbed the reins because we just tried to push it in spring training and it didn’t work,” Miley said.

Miley started 16 games against the Cubs with six coming at Wrigley Field in his career prior to being claimed off waivers by Chicago last November. And now, he’s anxious to finally get that first outing in a Cubs uniform under his belt.

“I can’t wait,” Miley said. “I’ve been with the team this whole time, and it’s like (I’ve been) itching to get out there and compete. But I think we did the right thing. I’m looking forward to it.”

****

For the first time this season, David Bote was at Wrigley Field to take in a Cubs game.

Not a game that he was playing in, as he’s still on the 60-day IL until at least June 6 after having left shoulder surgery in the offseason. But with the White Sox traveling to the North Side for a two-game set at Wrigley, Bote joined the Cubs for a contest against their crosstown rivals.

“It was really hard,” Bote said Wednesday about spending the last few weeks rehabbing in Arizona, away from the team. “That’s part of the reason why I’m here is to get back into the flow, get back into the clubhouse with the guys and get back into the pregame routines of how it goes. In Arizona, the schedule is so scripted out. Here, it’s a little bit different when you get the variabilities of weather or travel days or something like that. So just get back in with the guys, connect with the team and just get back into that competing mode.”

In case you’d forgotten, here’s a quick recap of Bote’s left shoulder journey last season: On May 29, Bote slid into second base attempting to break up a double play against the Reds, and after he tried to grab onto second base, it was clear he was in pain. The next day, the Cubs placed Bote on the 10-day IL with a dislocated left shoulder.

After rehabbing, Bote made his return at the end of July, but two months later, another shoulder issue popped up. Bote told CHGO this week that he dislocated the shoulder a second time in September, and at that point, surgery became necessary.

“I dislocated it, we rehabbed it back, it felt great,” Bote said, “and then there was a tear in there, and it just dislocated again in September. After that second dislocation, you just got to go surgically fix it, or else it’ll just keep popping out.”

Bote said he hit the sixth-month point after the operation on April 22, which was “a huge marker to get cleared to do full activities.” He has since continued to build up, and he’s expecting to begin his own rehab assignment in a couple of weeks. He said he hadn’t gone over exact specifics with the team, but that’s the tentative plan.

And when June 6 comes around, he believes he’ll be ready to rejoin the Cubs.

“In my head, that’s where it’s at, for sure,” Bote said. “We haven’t discussed anything with the team. We haven’t sat down and talked about it, but we talked about in spring training, like, once the 60 days happen, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be ready. Obviously, we got to see how everything goes.”

****

Clint Frazier was also back in the Cubs’ clubhouse this week, a couple weeks removed from undergoing an appendectomy on April 22. Ross said that he would get some exercise on the bike and “start moving around” on May 3, beginning light activity is his recovery from the procedure.

Frazier joked with reporters that he told Ross he was available to hit that night, but of course that wasn’t a realistic option. Still, Ross said jokes like that, even with no true timetable for his return, are what make Frazier a delight to have around the team.

“It’s good to see him,” Ross said. “He’s going to actually do his first little bit of exercise today on the bike and start moving around. He’s a baseball guy. He actually told me the story of knowing he was going to pinch hit and dealing with these pains in the dugout that he thought was — can we say gas? Yeah, I guess gas. I guess he was there going, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to pinch hit, but I got to be ready.’ All this is going on, and then we find out he’s got a real condition. He’s fun. He’s always the jokester, puts a smile on your face when you see him.

“We definitely had a conversation of him being ready. I told him I was more ready to hit than he was, and then we had a big debate. I think he was right. I’m probably not.”

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