Chicago Cubs deal with double dose of injury news
The Chicago Cubs found themselves face to face with a whole new set of challenges Monday as the playoff race starts to get serious.
An MRI confirmed that all-star catcher Willson Contreras has a Grade 2 strain of his right hamstring, and that he'll be on the injured list about four weeks.
That was expected. What wasn't expected was closer Craig Kimbrel going on the IL. But that was the news Monday as the Cubs revealed Kimbrel has inflammation in his right knee. The pitcher said he felt it in this past Saturday's save appearance against the Milwaukee Brewers.
So now it's time the remaining players to play, for the manager to manage and for the president and general manager to generally manage a little harder.
The Cubs entered Monday night's game against the Oakland Athletics atop the National League Central, 1½ games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals.
"Wow," said manager Joe Maddon. "I just see it -- take this the right way -- as another day at the office. It's something you get used to doing. My minor-league training, I'm telling you, is the best thing that ever happened to me because … I've been in these moments. Of course there's something different at stake (than the minor leagues).
"Nevertheless, it's about dealing with injuries, dealing with new people walking in the door and trying to get the best out of them, putting them in a position to succeed. I think about that stuff. I do. I think about moments in the past where it was less than perfect in a difficult moment but you still got to try to make it work."
The Cubs will make it work in several ways:
• Maddon said it was "committee time" when it comes to replacing Kimbrel, who hopes to be out only for the 10-day IL stint. The manager cited Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, Rowan Wick and Kyle Ryan as relievers who could step up. Pedro Strop, currently on the IL, could be close to making a minor-league rehab appearance and coming back.
• Victor Caratini will get the bulk of the playing time behind the plate, with recently recalled Taylor Davis backing him up. Maddon said Caratini could go three days in a row and four max before needing a breather.
The Cubs also are looking at veterans such as Jonathan Lucroy, recently designated for assignment by the Angels.
The Cubs had a veteran catcher recently in Martin Maldonado, whom they obtained from the Royals for pitcher Mike Montgomery on July 5. But they traded Maldonado last week to the Astros for Tony Kemp.
"It came down to player happiness," said general manager Jed Hoyer. "It's hard to keep three guys happy. There's no doubt keeping three and having that depth on the 25-man, in theory it works. But in practice, when all three guys are playing less than they want and all three guys are good major-league players who deserve to play, that was a big part of it. We weren't entirely confident that it wouldn't impact all three guys in a negative way.
"Three out of 25 is a big number when you think about your overall clubhouse dynamic. That was a big part of the conversation. Obviously you want the depth, and I think that's something we desired but we felt like we couldn't do it. We were happy to get Tony and think he's going to have a big impact on us."
The Cubs will miss Contreras' offense in a big way, but they expressed hope that recently acquired outfielder Nicholas Castellanos could pick up some of the slack.
In the clubhouse before Monday night's game, Contreras seemed downcast but philosophical. He injured himself running out of the batter's box Saturday. He said the injury was slightly higher on the leg than the hamstring injury that put him out for a month in 2017.
"It is what it is, I'm hurt," he said. "I've got to be smart with the recovery process. I'm going to take it slow. I'm disappointed with this injury because of the way I take care of my body. It shouldn't happen, but it happened."
Kimbrel said he felt "discomfort" in his knee when he threw a pitch Saturday but that he was able to finish the inning. He is 9-for-11 in save chances since the Cubs signed him in June.
"Unfortunately I have to take a little break, but it's going to be something that hopefully is going to be a good thing," he said.