It has been known for some time that Cubs closer Brandon Morrow would likely not be ready for the start of the season, but his precise timeline has been tough to guess. As MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian was among those to tweet, there’s now a clear target date for Morrow to throw his first pen session: March 25th.
Morrow dealt with a biceps injury last season and underwent offseason surgery on his elbow. The current rehab plan seems to be for Morrow to continue building up strength and testing his powerful right arm over the next several weeks. So long as he tolerates further increases in his long-toss program, he’ll get back on the bump near the end of the month.
Even if Morrow toes the rubber on the 25th, it’ll still leave several steps left before he’s ready for competitive action. From that point, he’d need to regain the feel for his arsenal, step in against live hitters, and progress to some sort of game-like action before potentially undertaking a rehab assignment in lieu of the Spring Training contests he’ll have missed.
The broader timeline remains foggy and obviously depends quite a bit on how Morrow comes through each forthcoming test. His bullpen mates reported to camp on February 13th; by that measure, at least, he’ll be something like five or six weeks behind schedule. Of course, Morrow has been ramping up for duty in other ways and has previously indicated he anticipates missing about a month of action.
It remains to be seen how quickly Morrow will move once he nears readiness. By that point, the Cubs will already have quite a bit more information than they do now about their immediate roster needs. Regardless, the club will surely weigh heavily the knowledge of Morrow’s long and short-term health history.
This time last year, Morrow was ramping up for a highly successful first half of the 2018 season — his first on a two-year, $21MM contract that brought him to Chicago. That he was in position to sign that deal was in itself quite notable, given that Morrow had only just revived his injury-wracked career. After 30 2/3 innings of 1.47 ERA pitching, though, Morrow hit the DL with what seemed like a minor issue. He never made it back, with the team shutting him down in mid-September after hope of a late-season return faded.
Entering the winter, the Cubs made clear they would keep Morrow penciled in as their primary closer. But his outlook was downgraded again when he ended up requiring an elbow debridement procedure in early November. With little free payroll to allocate in free agency, the Cubs never pursued a true replacement, though they did add a hurler who has late-inning experience. Brad Brach joins Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek, and Brandon Kintzler as Chicago relievers with at least twenty MLB saves.