The schedule and some help from Mother Nature might lessen the Cubs’ angst over losing ace Jon Lester for at least one start, but the rest of the rotation realizes they must fill a significant void.
“We talk about wanting to one-up the guy who went out there,” Kyle Hendricks said before Wednesday’s game against the Pirates. “It’s healthy competition. We’re locked in when each guy is starting. It makes it fun, having a close-knit group like that.
“Not having Jon for a couple starts now is tough. He’s part of it, but we’ll pick up the slack like we need to and go from there.”
The Cubs placed Lester on the 10-day injured list, retroactive to Tuesday, after he strained his left hamstring running the bases during Monday’s 10-0 victory over the Pirates.
Manager Joe Maddon emphasized there is no timetable on Lester’s recovery, and Maddon wasn’t sure if Lester even would be allowed to play catch to keep his left arm in shape while his leg heals.
Losing Lester, 35, the only Cubs starter to throw at least six innings in two starts, adds pressure to a rotation that entered Wednesday’s game with a 6.49 ERA and an average of 4 1/3 innings.
“We’re just going to play this as we go along,” Maddon said. “We’re not going to create a finish line. Jon is a pretty tough individual, and we’re just going to keep it open-ended. And as he progresses, we’ll try to create the finish line.
“For right now, of course he’s going to miss his next start. We know that. But beyond that, we’re just going to keep an open mind.”
Shortly after being pulled Monday, Lester thought he might be able to return for his next start Sunday against the Angels. But that assignment will go to Tyler Chatwood, who hasn’t been scored upon in two of his three relief appearances. Chatwood lost his spot in the rotation in late July because of wildness that led to the acquisition of Cole Hamels.
“It’s tough,” Anthony Rizzo said of losing Lester, who has made at least 31 starts in each of the last 11 seasons. “He’s our main guy here. He’s in good spirits. He feels good. I’m sure he’ll be pushing to get back on the field sooner rather than later.”
Because of the day off Tuesday, the Cubs didn’t need to fill Lester’s spot until Sunday, and they promoted left-handed reliever Tim Collins from Triple-A Iowa to take his roster spot.
The Cubs also have scheduled days off April 18 and 22, allowing them to employ a four-man rotation of Yu Darvish, Hamels, Hendricks and Jose Quintana until April 27 against the Diamondbacks if necessary.
“We could avoid having to use that spot, just based on off-days,” Maddon said. “And if we get some rainouts, which we don’t want, but if it were to happen, other things could happen to that.
“Honestly, when Jon is ready to go, he’s going to go. That’s pretty much what it’s going to be.”
Until Lester returns, the rest of the pitching staff will need to be resourceful and effective.
“He’s the picture-perfect guy for us,” Hendricks said. “He sets the image we want to have as a staff. He’s been that guy we always look to, and he always sets an example for us. So it’s unfortunate having him go down for a couple (starts), but hopefully it’s quick and we get him back and rolling again.”