GOODYEAR, Ariz. – The Cubs tried to spin it as a positive development: Scott Baker’s season isn’t already over.
This diagnosis doesn’t confirm the worst fears about a pitcher who had Tommy John surgery almost 12 months ago. But there’s also no chance he’ll be ready by the mid-April or early May target date the Cubs had talked about this spring.
One week after Baker couldn’t finish the first inning in his Cactus League debut – his first game in almost 18 months – the Cubs announced he wouldn’t throw again for at least another month because of a right elbow strain.
“It’s bad news,” manager Dale Sveum said before Sunday’s 4-3 win over the Cleveland Indians at Goodyear Ballpark. “It’s somebody that we were counting on to be there, whenever it was going to be. … That’s bad news whenever you lose a little bit of depth and it’s just going to take a little bit longer.”
The Cubs understood the risks when they gave Baker a one-year, $5.5 million deal and the chance to regain his form as a big-league starter. They still think he could be a factor sometime this summer.
The Big Three was supposed to be Jeff Samardzija, Matt Garza and Edwin Jackson. One week from Opening Day, the Cubs will begin the season without 40 percent of their projected rotation and the third baseman they sort of thought could win the job.
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The Cubs hoped Garza would be the game-changer. He reported to camp in excellent shape for his walk year, determined to erase all the doubts after a stress reaction in his right elbow killed his value at the trade deadline and ended his season last July.
Garza strained a lat muscle during the team’s first full-squad workout on Feb. 17 at Fitch Park. Now he’s expected to throw a bullpen session sometime during the first week of April.
“The one disappointment was Garza,” Sveum said. “Garza’s the one that if we’d had him Opening Day, that changes things around a little bit, to have three guys like that at the top and then you mix in (Travis) Wood or (Carlos) Villanueva and (Scott) Feldman.”
Ian Stewart (quad) will need at least two more weeks before he will be ready to start a rehab assignment, so don’t count on him in April. Sveum is clearly comfortable with Luis Valbuena at third base in combination with Brent Lillibridge.
“We weren’t sure on Stewart,” Sveum said of the “two-way player” the Cubs non-tendered before making a one-year, $2 million prove-it deal. “It would have been nice to see Stewart play every day and have a great spring and hit home runs and catch the ball and all that. But we were hoping more than counting on it.”
The Opening Day roster keeps coming into sharper focus, with reliever Rafael Dolis being optioned to Triple-A Iowa. That leaves Cory Wade, Zach Putnam and Hisanori Takahashi competing for the final bullpen spot. Only four more days to go in Arizona.