A murky bullpen situation got even cloudier for the Cubs Friday when Joe Maddon revealed that righty Tony Barnette remains shut down with shoulder soreness. A relatively unheralded signing in February, Barnette figured to play a significant role this season after putting up excellent numbers for the Rangers in an abbreviated 2018 campaign.
He posted a 2.39 ERA (2.97 FIP) with 26 strikeouts and only five walks in 26.1 innings (22 appearances) for Texas, but was shelved in July with a shoulder strain. Though Barnette was cleared for full participation at the start of camp, he hasn’t appeared in a game since March 3 and it’s now doubtful he’ll be ready by the start of the regular season.
No great surprise, but Maddon envisions a lineup with Bryant, Rizzo, Baez 2-3-4. Also, reliever Tony Barnette (shoulder) longshot to be ready by opening day
— Mark Gonzales (@MDGonzales) March 15, 2019
This is particularly worrisome not just because it’s a shoulder issue that may still be lingering from 8 months ago, but because the Cubs are already short-handed at the end of the ‘pen. And Barnette, a former closer with NPB’s Yakult Swallows, could have served on the closer committee or at least slid into a higher-leverage role for a short while.
With Brandon Morrow also out and Pedro Strop‘s return not set in stone, the door is open for young pitchers like Dillon Maples or Dakota Mekkes to step up and take a roster spot. Both are scheduled as options in Friday’s game, so perhaps their appearances will take on a little additional meaning.