How long could Jameson Taillon be out and how will the Cubs rotation be impacted?


MESA, Ariz. — Chicago Cubs manager Craig Counsell made it clear that starter Jameson Taillon was unlikely to be healthy in time to make his first turn through the rotation to start the season.

“A stiff lower back is still the diagnosis,” Counsell told reporters on Tuesday afternoon. “It is fair to say that Opening Day is unlikely in terms of getting ready. Just because of missing the prep and the buildup. As we get him back on the field, that lets us figure out a timetable.”

Taillon pitched three innings in a simulated game on March 4 and was scheduled to make his first start of the spring on Saturday. However, he felt his back lock up on him while warming up to make that start and was scratched.

How far does this set back Taillon to get ready for the season?

“That depends on how many days we have to take non-throwing,” Counsell said. “So if we start playing catch right away, I think we’ll stay on the same schedule. But the fact is you gotta get into game action and every five days, a minimum of four times before we can get you ready as a starter.”

Taillon worked with weighted balls on Tuesday and was expected to throw on Wednesday. If that were to go well, a bullpen could be possible early next week. If all that were to go well, Taillon wouldn’t be able to get those four outings in before Opening Day. Counsell did say the simulated game would count.

Assuming no setbacks, Taillon might reach the point where he could give the team about four innings. But that would lead to using another starter anyway via piggyback or leaning on the bullpen unnecessarily early in the season.

But there isn’t a need to rush the process, especially with the confidence the Cubs seem to have in their pitching depth. Taillon came back quickly from a groin injury early last summer and it very well could have contributed to what was a dreadful first half of the season for him. An injured list stint seems nearly inevitable now.

Before last Saturday’s scratched start, Taillon was impressing the coaching staff with the shape of his pitches this spring and his work had those around him optimistic about the season he was about to have. The hope is that he can get back on the mound in a timely manner.

Opening Day starter Justin Steele made his third start of the spring on Tuesday. The lefty looked dominant in his four innings of work, striking out nine with no walks. He said his four-seamer and slider were in “midseason form.” With Taillon getting hurt, Steele knows others need to step up, but seemed confident in those who could get an opportunity.

“Everyone around here feels comfortable with the guy that’s going to be able to step up and take those innings,” Steele said. “(Taillon) can take his time and we know he’ll come back. He was looking really good leading up to that. It’s always good to have depth with pitching.”

Jordan Wicks, Hayden Wesneski, Drew Smyly and Javier Assad were all competing for the fifth starter spot before Taillon’s injury. Counsell said Wicks “carries himself like someone who’s pitched for a long time in the big leagues,” and complimented his mound presence, competitiveness and preparation. The rookie lefty has felt like a favorite to round out the rotation, and with another spot likely open to start the season, the chances of his inclusion only increase.


Cubs pitcher Shota Imanaga, shown in spring training against the Mariners, was accustomed to longer periods of rest between starts in Japan. (Matt Kartozian / USA Today)

What throws a little wrinkle into how the rotation plays out to start the season is Shota Imanaga’s schedule. Coming from Japan, Imanaga is accustomed to pitching every sixth day. Imanaga has remained on that schedule this spring and while Counsell has said they won’t go to a six-man rotation, there have been hints that they’ll be creative with how to get him some rest.

“He’s gonna be a starter,” Counsell said. “How often he pitches — we’re not going to make a special schedule for Shota, we’re going to make a schedule for our pitching staff.”

The Cubs start the season with 12 games in 15 days, so they could space things out for Imanaga so that he remains on his longer rest schedule. Cubs pitchers have been made aware that being careful with Imanaga’s rest days is a priority. So even before Taillon’s injury, some machinations with the rotation and how they’d deploy their starters were being discussed.

For now, it looks like Taillon won’t miss significant time. A minimum stint on the IL — backdated three days from Opening Day — would have him ready to go on April 9 — 10 games into the season. That could mean just one fill-in start would be needed during his absence.

If that’s the case, the Cubs could have an extra reliever in the bullpen for parts of the first week-plus if they so choose and still be able to give Imanaga the rest they desire. Of course, Taillon’s injury isn’t ideal, but if all goes well, there’s a chance the Cubs can avoid rushing him and still not feel his absence.

(Top photo: Matt Dirksen / Getty Images)





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