Posted on September 20, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
After nursing a sore hamstring for more than two weeks, Chicago Cubs ace Jake Arrieta has been cleared to return to the mound. Arrieta will start Thursday when the Cubs begin a critical four-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers. Getting the start on Thursday will allow Arrieta to make three starts between now and the end of the regular season. After that, the Cubs are hopeful he will once again anchor their rotation during the playoffs.
Arrieta has been on the shelf since September 4. That day, he lasted just 2.1 innings in a start against the Pirates before he was pulled because of soreness in his hamstring. At the time, Arrieta was diagnosed with a Grade 1 strain. The Cubs hopeful that he would miss just one or two times through the rotation. He’s missed a little more time than expected. But after throwing a 25-pitch bullpen session on Tuesday, Cubs trainers have given Arrieta the go-ahead to pitch on Thursday.
“He looked really good,” Cubs President Theo Epstein said of Arrieta’s bullpen session. “Mechanically sound. Executed his pitches and didn’t feel anything. If it works out where he can pitch on Thursday, it would be good, so he can have three starts the rest of the year. Give him a chance to get stretched out and everything locked back in.”
After Arrieta and his hamstring felt fine on Wednesday following Tuesday’s bullpen session he was declared fit to start Thursday. After taking a couple weeks off, Arrieta will likely be limited to 75 or 80 pitches during Thursday’s start. But because he will return in time to make two more starts, including the final day of the regular season, Arrieta has enough time to build up his pitch count. He also feels like his arm may be stronger after getting a short rest.
“The good thing is the arm strength is there, it’s remained there. I actually feel better for maybe having a little time off arm-strength-wise,” Arrieta said. “The idea is to be out there the last game against Cincinnati at full pitch count and to be ready for the playoffs.”
Before being sidelined earlier this month, Arrieta was performing as well as any pitcher in baseball. In 10 starts since the all-star break, Arrieta is 6-2 with a 1.98 ERA. The Cubs would love nothing more than to see him pick up where he left off.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon declined to say whether he intends to start Arrieta in Game 1 of the NLDS. But if Arrieta is able to start the final game of the regular season, he would be able to start Game 1 of the NLDS on regular rest.
Of course, the Cubs still have to close out the NL Central and secure a postseason spot. At the start of the day Wednesday, Chicago was riding a 7-game win streak and held a 3.5-game lead over the Brewers. Milwaukee has a chance to close that gap this weekend. However, the return of Arrieta should give the Cubs a boost that will help them close out another division title. Having a healthy Arrieta will also make the Cubs feel much better about their rotation heading into the playoffs.