Cubs Hope Yu Darvish, Drew Smyly Can Return By September

Whether he was exercising newfound discretion of his own accord or at the behest of team leadership, Jim Hickey was a bit more ambiguous when speaking about his injured charges Wednesday morning. Joining the newly minted Mully and Haugh Show for his weekly phoner, the Cubs pitching coach dialed back what had heretofore been pretty blatant specificity regarding Kyle Hendricks’ faltering mechanics¬†Brandon Morrow’s biceps pain, and more.

Hickey had also previously shared the organization’s hope that Yu Darvish would be able to return by the trade deadline, which passed Tuesday afternoon. Although he never specified that he meant the non-waiver deadline, so the hope could still become a reality. The latest best-case scenario has Darvish being activated by September, which would give him time to settle into a groove prior to the postseason.

Darvish threw a 35-bullpen session Tuesday in Pittsburgh and told reporters afterward that it was the first time he’d thrown completely pain-free in two months. Now it’s a matter of building back his confidence in being able to really cutting it loose on the mound, something Hickey felt good about after Tuesday’s efforts.

“It was a step in the right direction, absolutely,” Hickey told Mully and Haugh. “He threw about 35 pitches in the bullpen, mixed all the pitches up and threw with considerable effort.”

That last part is the real key, since effort level is a major factor in whether and how the discomfort could sneak back in. It’s easy to avoid pain when you’re only going 50 percent or just playing catch. Mixing in various grips and velocities is what can get you, whether mentally or physically. Being able to remove the psychological governor can be the hardest part of coming back from any injury.

Hickey said that the next step is a simulated game, which should take place in the next two to three days. If things go well with that, Darvish will likely need one more sim game prior to a second rehab assignment. Assuming it takes at least two live starts with one of the affiliates, we’re looking at a minimum three-plus weeks before Darvish could be activated.

While breaking down Darvish’s timeline, Hickey also mentioned that Drew Smyly was scheduled to throw another sim game Thursday. That comes about a week and a half after¬†his first such session and could be the final hurdle prior to a rehab assignment of his own. Smyly, though, will no doubt need a little more than two appearances in the minors before he’s ready.

“I think there’s a good chance, I’m not sure I would say I anticipate it,” Hickey initially said when asked whether Smyly could return this season. “I would not be surprised at all. He is a very, very effective pitcher, I just don’t know in what role that would be.”

But in true Jim Hickey fashion, the coach talked himself into some more revelatory language regarding Smyly’s return.

“Barring any setbacks, he would be ready to come pitch in a game prior to the season ending,” Hickey said. “It would probably be about five weeks or so from now. I would think you see Drew Smyly pitching in a Cubs uniform this year.”

Okay, that’s not actually huge news since we’ve been saying here for a while that Smyly could actually make his Cubs debut prior to Darvish being reactivated. That doesn’t seem to be the case according to Hickey’s timeline, though there’s good reason to believe the Cubs could hold both back until September.

A lot depends on how the rest of the staff is doing and whether a move is really needed, but holding off until September roster expansions would allow the Cubs to keep everyone around even after activating both Darvish and Smyly. And given the way things have gone this season, they may not want to devote scarce roster spots to pitchers they can’t necessarily depend on.

Cole Hamels bouncing back and turning his dream come true into a resurgent stretch run would certain help matters on that front. Between Hamels’ debut Wednesday night and subsequent sim games from Darvish and Smyly, we should have a much better idea of where the Cubs rotation and staff as a whole sit by the end of the week.

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