Theo Epstein cautiously optimistic Brandon Morrow can be big part of Cubs' October bullpen


The Cubs and Brandon Morrow didn't reach an agreement on a free-agent deal this winter by dreaming about the veteran right-hander picking up saves in May.

No, this was a move with October in mind on both sides.

After a career marred by injury, Morrow rose to prominence again last fall when he emerged as a dominant force out of the Dodgers bullpen and appeared in all seven games of the 2017 World Series.

It's hard to envision Morrow throwing all seven games for the Cubs in the World Series next month, but he and the team are cautiously optimsitic he's moving toward a return and hoping he can be some sort of factor in the postseason.

Morrow has thrown off a mound just twice since the All-Star Break — once Aug. 18 in Pittsburgh and then Sunday in Washington D.C. as the Cubs got rained out. 

Morrow only threw 25 pitches Sunday, but said he felt great and threw again from flat ground Monday afternoon/evening. He will throw another bullpen Wednesday at Wrigley Field and will presumably face his teammates in a simulated game a few days after that second bullpen.

That would put Morrow on track to return to the active roster at some point near the end of the weekend or early next week, fitting the timeline he laid out last week.

The bone bruise in Morrow's right forearm isn't fully healed and it's probably unrealistic to count on him being 100 percent at any point this fall. 

But even if Morrow can't pitch on back-to-back days and is still effective while pitching through pain or discomfort, the Cubs will certainly take that. 

"Once we understood what we were dealing with in terms of bone bruise and how you want to give as much time as possible to let that heal, but that there would probably come a time where if he's gonna give it a shot, he's gotta push to get back in game action to give him enough time to make an impact on the season to get ready for October," Epstein said. "We did it with the hope of getting him enough appearances where he could be ready to roll by October.

"So we'll see if that comes to be. He's doing everything he possibly can. He really wants it. He signed here to pitch in October and obviously he's a weapon."

The Cubs have 19 games left after Monday night but with the possibility Thursday's rain makeup in D.C. gets moved again due to weather and becomes an "as needed" situation, time is starting to run out. 

Morrow said over the weekend he and the team were targeting the end of this current Cubs homestand or beginning of next week's series in Arizona as a possible return date.

But that would leave only two weeks of action in a best case scenario, where the Cubs could script maybe three or four appearances for Morrow in the regular season before October hits.

The Cubs are not yet entertaining any notion that Morrow couldn't make it back to game action in September.

"Right now, there's plenty of time to get him multiple appearances in the regular season if things continue trending the right way," Epstein said.

If Morrow only has a certain amount of "bullets" in his arm, so to speak, the best use for him would be in October, when bullpens and closers become a huge part of every postseason game.

Without Morrow the last two months, Pedro Strop has seen most of the Cubs' save chances but Joe Maddon has also mixed and matched with guys like Jesse Chavez and Justin Wilson. 

"We like our bullpen," Epstein said. "We've been a Top 5 bullpen all year and a lot of that has been without Brandon. But I'm optimistic he's gonna come back. That's what we do for the most part anyways — we match up, trying to play to guys' strengths, put them in a position to succeed, find a part of the lineup that can be most effective.

"When we have Brandon, we work from the eighth inning backward in that regard."

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