Cubs reliever Brandon Hughes landed on the 15-day injured list with inflammation in his left knee for the second time this season. His move to the IL made room for Caleb Kilian, who made a spot start Saturday, on the roster.
Hughes’ left knee injury, which flared up this spring, stems from a 2015 surgery to repair his meniscus. The fact that the inflammation is recurring, when he’s successfully managed the issue up to this point, is a cause for some concern.
“I think the main concern is just finding a great routine and maintenance plan that can help him perform at a high level and have that thing not flare up on him,” manager David Ross said. “Because when you get off that backside, the mechanics suffer, and then the pitch efficiency suffers, the effectiveness, it’s just a snowball effect.
“I’m sure he does, and we do feel like it’s a cycle that we want to break a little bit.”
The Cubs are shutting down Hughes for now to address the swelling. He’s switching back to a more substantial brace. Ross didn’t want to go into the details of Hughes’ medical treatment plan, but he said the team will “throw everything at it that we possibly can and see what helps.”
Said Ross: “The good thing is, we’ve been through this process once out of spring training and found a couple things that helped out, and we’ll try to build upon that moving forward.”
This spring, the Cubs shutdown Hughes after four Cactus League outings, and he was throwing off a mound again about a week later. He went on a rehab assignment to continue building up and improve the consistency of his mechanics.
After returning from the IL on April 15, he posted a 3.18 ERA in five games.
Hughes’ injury again leaves the Cubs without a left-hander in the bullpen.
The Cubs do have a couple lefty options in Triple-A – including Ryan Borucki, who was considered for the Opening Day roster – and a 40-man roster spot open. Borucki started the Triple-A season strong but has struggled in his last two outings, allowing nine runs combined in 2 ⅔ innings.
The Cubs also spent the first two weeks of the season without a lefty in the bullpen. Ross often turned to Mark Leiter Jr., whose splits are good against left-handed hitters, in lefty-heavy pockets of opposing lineups. Rookie Jeremiah Estrada is also expected to get more opportunities out of the bullpen.
“We’re not always going to get the perfect matchup that we want,” Ross said, “but I don’t know if anybody does.”