The left-hander was pitching like he was on the verge of a fifth selection until getting hurt Friday night — including a 1.22 ERA in six June starts.
CINCINNATI – The Cubs may have lost more than the services of starting pitcher Cole Hamels for the next several weeks because of the oblique injury the left-hander suffered Friday night.
The injury also may have cost them an All-Star representative next week in Cleveland.
Hamels (6-3, 2.98 ERA) was the pitching staff’s top All-Star hope until suffering the left oblique strain in Friday’s first inning, which landed him on the injured list Saturday.
His timeline is uncertain. He missed two months in 2017 because of a right oblique strain that Hamels said was much worse than this one. He has an MRI scheduled Monday in Pittsburgh.
The Cubs already have two All-Star starters in catcher Willson Contreras and shortstop Javy Baez, and they might land another (Kris Bryant? Anthony Rizzo?) when full rosters are announced Sunday.
But don’t underestimate the sense of missed opportunity for a 14th-year veteran pitcher performing as well as he had since his last All-Star season, three years ago.
“It’s a big deal to all of us because it’s [about] goals,” said Hamels, a four-time All-Star. “Also as you get older in this game you want to enjoy some things that you might not have taken so seriously when you were earlier in your career; you take things for granted.
“And pitchers are a little bit different I think because they get selected on necessity as opposed to popularity. So this could easily deter even the opportunity. So it is a tough thing.”
Hamels was scheduled to pitch Wednesday in Pittsburgh. With the injury, the Cubs scrubbed their rotation schedule beyond Monday (rookie Adbert Alzolay).
Kyle Hendricks looked good in a bullpen session Saturday in Cincinnati, and depending how he fares overnight he might get the OK to skip a minor-league rehab start and advance directly from the injured list (shoulder inflammation) back into the rotation in Pittsburgh.
If that were to happen Tuesday, it would allow Hendricks to also pitch one more time, Sunday against the White Sox, before the All-Star break.
That scenario likely pushes Yu Darvish to Wednesday, Jon Lester to Thursday and Jose Quintana to Saturday against the White Sox.
CarGone, and bullpen reinforcements
The Cubs bumped their bullpen strength to nine arms with the additions of Rowan Wick and Dillon Maples from Class AAA Iowa as Hamels went on the IL.
The Cubs needed relief depth after four days of heavy bullpen use, including seven innings Friday.
They made room for the second pitcher by designating outfielder Carlos Gonzalez for assignment.
Gonzalez, who was signed for the prorated major-league minimum after being released by Cleveland a month ago, hit just .175 in 49 plate appearances for the Cubs, with one homer and a .606 OPS.
Break for Baez?
Baez, who still shows lingering signs of the bruised heel he suffered last month in Washington, is expected Sunday to get the rest day Maddon has been looking to give him for much of the past week.
Then, again, will his game-changing grand slam in the eighth on Saturday change the plan?
“He keeps insisting that he feels great. I’m sure he does,” Maddon said. “But I’ve just got to be proactive and get him off his feet.”
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