Let’s Give ‘Em Thumb Things to Talk About

Because nothing gets people excited like appropriating Bonnie Raitt lyrics.

After being shut down only one-third of an inning into his most recent outing with a blister on his right thumb, there were some fears that Jake Arrieta might not be able to make his scheduled Opening Day start. Joe Maddon quelled those worries on Sunday, saying that his ace will be on the mound when the season opens in Anaheim next Monday.

Arrieta threw a 46-pitch side session that Chris Bosio said was “one of the best ‘pens he’s thrown all year,” so that’s good news. The pitcher himself said the issue was really more about dry, irritated skin from the desert air than an actual blister, but the discomfort was enough to mess with his grip last Thursday. As a result, Arrieta threw only 34 pitches and got roughed up early by the Giants hitters.

While it wasn’t likely that the blister would have turned into a DL stint, there was talk that it might at least bump the rotation up a day or two. It’s already been widely theorized — if not stated outright — that the Cubs would open with eight relievers, so a shift in the starters could have ensured it. Of course, even the news that Arrieta will remain on schedule shouldn’t change the octo-pen.

That doesn’t mean a bum thumb won’t be tipping the scales of the roster though.

Javier Baez was a shoo-in to break camp with the Cubs, but that was before he jammed his left thumb on a headfirst slide into first base. Kids, don’t ever do this. He hasn’t played since March 20 and he’s still absent from Monday’s lineup, which features Ben Zobrist at short and Tommy La Stella at second. All indications are that Baez could be back soon though, and Maddon hinted at as much this weekend.

“He came in and shook my hand this morning and wished me happy Easter, so I know he’s feeling pretty good,” the Cubs skipper said Sunday.

Perhaps I’m missing something here, but I don’t really understand how either shaking Maddon’s hand or wishing him happy Easter would provide insight into the health of Baez’s thumb. It would make sense if we were talking about his right thumb, since it would affect his grip strength and all that. Or if Baez had challenged his manager to a game of rock/paper/scissors and didn’t wince when Maddon covered his rock with paper.

I think what Maddon’s referring to is Baez’s demeanor. If the multi-talented player was feeling bad about the thumb and his prospects to get back into the lineup, perhaps he’d have been in poorer spirits. If he’s not back in there soon, though, it would certainly shuffle things around and force the Cubs to make some decisions.

The bullpen is pretty well set at this point, at least to the extent that Baez going to the DL would not impact the number of arms they choose to carry. But with the final position spot coming down to La Stella, Munenori Kawasaki, and Matt Szczur, a injury would open the door for two guys to make the cut. At this point, my money would be on Kawasaki and Szczur.

Baez is the primary backup to all four infield positions and he can also spell Dexter Fowler in center. As such, his absence on the bench could mean the Cubs would choose to carry an extra outfield bat. Szczur possesses the ability to play in the grass while La Stella does not. What’s more, La Stella possesses minor league options while Szczur does not. If, however, Baez is able to go, I believe the former Villanova wideout with the awkward last name will be the odd man out.

Either way, we’re going to get some answers soon because Opening Day is only a week off.


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