Have we seen Pedro Strop throw his last pitch of the season?
It’s as big a question as any facing the Cubs, who announced Friday that the reliever won’t take the mound again until — best-case scenario — sometime in the playoffs.
Have we seen Strop’s last pitch as a Cub?
That, too, is a possibility. The right-hander — with the team since the 2013 trade that brought Jake Arrieta from Baltimore — has a $6.25 million club option for 2019. It’s a hefty price tag the front office will consider as it weighs other pitching needs created by Yu Darvish’s injury and an apparent free-agent whiff on Tyler Chatwood. The Cubs can buy out the 33-year-old Strop’s contract for $500,000.
An MRI revealed a strain in Strop’s left hamstring, hurt Thursday as he ran to first base on a double-play grounder in the 10th inning of a 4-3 victory over the Nationals. Strop was 11-for-13 in save chances since regular closer Brandon Morrow went on the disabled list July 18 and is 6-1 with a 2.26 ERA in 60 appearances overall.
“It’s just unfortunate,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s been so big for us. To be without him for the next couple of weeks is going to be difficult, there’s no question.”
Maddon addressed criticism that came with his decision to bat Strop — who’d already thrown 21 pitches over 1 2/3 innings — with the bases loaded and one out in a one-run game. Tommy La Stella, who leads the majors with 23 pinch hits and 11 pinch RBI, was available.
“I think the vitriol, really, is comprised of the fact that Stropy got hurt, more than anything,” he said. “For me, that’s what it is. I mean, listen, I feel bad. When I had to jog out toward first base and knew he was hurt, that was a pretty bad feeling for me personally. But the last thing I [expected] there was injury. That was the last thing I was really trying to contemplate.”
When a Wrigley Field video board displayed a graphic Friday boasting of the Cubs’ National League-best 3.35 bullpen ERA, many in attendance must’ve wondered if the relief corps will be anywhere near that successful from here on out. As for closing games, Maddon can be expected to pull levers based on matchups.
“I feel like Morrow went down and Strop came up and did what he had to do,” struggling right-hander Carl Edwards Jr. said. “And now Strop is down, and it’s time for someone else to do the same and just keep the train going. We still have arms capable of closing out games.”
Right-hander Jesse Chavez called Strop an “amazing person” whose personality affects the team dynamic as much as his pitching does. What impressed Chavez most about Strop’s work in the closer’s role was that he didn’t do anything differently than before.
“Just like Stropy, we just need to keep our heads on the task at hand, know what we’ve got to do for each hitter and know we can’t get ourselves in a bind when the situation comes,” Chavez said. “We’ve just got to fill the void like he did.”
Morrow, scheduled to throw a simulated game Saturday and hoping to be activated in time to help hold off the Brewers in the division race, was at his home in Chicago when he saw Strop grab his leg in Washington.
“It sucks,” he said. “He’s been one of the most consistent relievers in Cubs history, I think. It puts it on everybody to step up. We’ve got one more hole to fill.”
The front office could look for a bullpen arm via a waiver move, but first baseman Anthony Rizzo contends the answers are right under the team’s collective nose.
“Are we just going to punt? Send special teams out and punt?” he said. “We’re playing for another ring, another championship, and everyone’s on board with it.
“Guys get hurt. That’s what happens, and you deal with it. Hopefully, we can weather the storm. I believe we have guys who can step up and get outs in big situations.”
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