Brandon Morrow and the Cubs are racing against time, but hope remains for now


WASHINGTON — The Brandon Morrow situation has jumped to the top of the list in terms of the most important questions Cubs have to answer by the end of the regular season.

Assuming the Cubs don't fade down the stretch and they make the playoffs, that October bullpen looks a hell of a lot different with Morrow at the back end than without. 

But there are still so many questions to answer over the next three-and-a-half weeks:

—Will he return from the forearm bone bruise?
—If he returns, how effective will he be?
—Will his velocity still be there?
—Will the pain be too much to where he can't pitch through it?
—Will he be able to reclaim the closer's role?
—Can he pitch on back-to-back days?

There are probably many more questions than that, but that'll do for now.

Morrow spoke prior to Thursday's game at Nationals Park and at least shed some light on the next course of action.

He will throw a bullpen Sunday, the first time he'll be back on the mound since the middle of August, when he threw a bullpen in Pittsburgh. That remains as the only time he's pitched off a mound since before the All-Star Break.

Assuming all goes well, Morrow would then try to ramp it up to another bullpen or toss a simulated game and try to rejoin the active roster on Sept. 16 or 17 — either for the final game of the Cubs' homestand or the first game in Arizona.

"We have a date for when I would be returning and I'm trying to get there," Morrow said. "[Sunday's bullpen] will tell me a lot and then everything from there on out will be towards returning hopefully on the 16th or 17th.

"I know there's not much time left. I know that obviously there's not enough time for a rehab assignment or anything like that. It'll be a sim game and then if my arm holds up, then the first couple will have to be scripted, but then it'll be in games at that point."

Morrow means his first couple outings in a live game would be scripted — like 15 pitches in a low leverage situation or something like that. 

He got another scan on his arm after that bullpen in Pittsburgh that showed the same thing — "a bone bruise and two little strains — and while there was improvement, the issue still isn't gone.

"It's just hard to predict what to expect when you don't see a lot of bone bruises in forearms," Morrow said.

At this point, there's no time to wait for Morrow to return to 100 percent. He still has experienced some soreness over the last couple weeks and has had to push back some scheduled throwing to rest here and there. 

Since nothing is guaranteed here, the Cubs have to continue to operate as if they won't get Morrow back, instead trying to nail down the last couple pieces of the postseason bullpen while using a closer-by-committe (though that's mainly been Pedro Strop).

"Today feels good," Morrow said. "There was a day last week that was a little sore and achy, so took a day off. It's good right now. I don't know how it'll be when I'm throwing it 98 mph, but I'm gonna try."

Nobody knows if Morrow will experience pain tomorrow or the next day. And if he does experience pain, will it be too much or could he pitch through it? 

"It's gonna depend," Maddon said. "He knows how he feels. You'll see the [radar] gun reading and the effectiveness. Can he pitch well by pitching to discomfort? I have no idea. It's just something we have to evaluate as we go along."

There is still so much unknown, but Sunday now looms as the biggest day in Morrow's 2018 season.

If he gets past that, each day after it becomes the next "biggest day" in Morrow's 2018 season. 

For the moment, hope is still alive.

"When I have the ball in my hand, I feel strong," Morrow said. "There's a little bit of ache in there, but it's not taking strength away. I feel strong when I have the ball in my hand when I'm throwing out there, so that part gives me confidence."

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