Sunday marked an emotional return to a major-league pitching mound for Scott Baker.
Almost a year-and-a-half after having Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, Baker made his first big-league start and pitched more than creditably in the Cubs’ 3-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field.
He worked 5 shutout innings of 2-hit ball and came out for a pinch hitter after throwing only 55 pitches.
“Obviously, it felt very good,” he said. “There were some emotions there. It’s been a long, long road, and I’m happy my family was here to share this moment because they’re just as much a part of this as I am. The rehab process is hard on everyone, not just the player himself.
“It’s been a long road, and that definitely plays into it being a very special day for me and my family.”
Now comes the dispassionate part.
Baker, who turns 32 on Sept. 19, is one of six starting pitchers in the rotation, and manager Dale Sveum must decide whether to keep him in it.
“I’m not going to say yes or no on that right now,” Sveum said. “We’ll talk about it and see how he feels in the next couple days.”
The Cubs have just begun a stretch of 20 games in 20 days, and the other five starters no doubt could use a little extra rest this time of year. One thing Sveum said he would not do is bump somebody for Baker, who had not pitched in the big leagues since 2011 while with the Minnesota Twins.
“There’s no way we would move anybody,” the manager said. “We could go to a six-man. We don’t have any days off, so you could go to a six-man-type thing or maybe give somebody a blow. We’ll see how it all works out.”
Baker said he’d like at least another start.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I feel like that’s the only way it’s going to get better. I understand that there are guys here who are fighting for jobs next year. As much as they want to pitch, I’m sure the staff and the front office want to get looks at everybody. And I understand that.
“Of course, I would have liked to have been here the whole year and this not be the situation, but I’m a realist and realize it is what it is. So I’m just going to do the best I can.
“If it’s an inning here or there or if it’s another start, I’ll do the best I can with it.”
There’s the long-term picture, too. Baker signed a one-year, $5.5 million deal with the Cubs last November with the hope of being ready by the beginning of the season or shortly afterward. He underwent the surgery in April 2012.
But after only 1 spring-training start, he felt discomfort and spent almost this entire season rehabbing.
It’s uncertain whether he and the Cubs will come to an agreement for anything past this year.
“I think right now beggars can’t be choosers,” Baker said. “I was very thankful they gave me the opportunity to start. They didn’t have to do that, but they did. They kind of left it up to me if I wanted to continue this process.
“I said I feel like I have something to give, and the only way to get there is to continue to pitch for the rest of this season and then have a nice, long, productive off-season because I didn’t have that last year.
“It was basically a rehab process all the way through. I really feel like having a dedicated amount of rest and recovery will put me back in line to be ready for next year.”
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