Cubs' Pitching Depth In Question After Quintana Injury

Jose Quintana will be sidelined at least a few weeks after thumb surgery.

Bruce Levine
July 02, 2020 - 4:35 pm

(670 The Score) With the announcement that left-hander Jose Quintana will miss the beginning of the truncated 60-game season, the Cubs' pitching depth is being challenged even before their group work officially begins at summer camp Friday.

Quintana underwent surgery on his left thumb Thursday morning after suffering a laceration on it while washing dishes at his home in Miami last Saturday. The procedure identified a lacerated digital sensory nerve in Quintana's left thumb, an ailment that was repaired.

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Quintana won't throw for two weeks and then must ramp up from there, which puts his status into serious jeopardy for the early portion of a regular season that's set to get started July 23 for a few teams and July 24 for most.

"There is some uncertainty surrounding his timetable," president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "We will just have to wait and see. He will be able to throw in two weeks. From there, it will depend on how he feels. The best-case scenario is it heals quickly. He had his arm built up, and he was pretty far along. The other-case scenario is the nerve takes longer to heal, and he will be significantly delayed. We can't forecast it. We must hope for the best when he is trowing in a couple of weeks."

While Epstein praised the 31-year-old Quintana's current arm condition, he'll need a new beginning in his program after not throwing for more than two weeks. It's also worth keeping in mind that Quintana is set to be a free agent at season's end, so rushing back before he's ready would be risky as he looks ahead to his next contract. 

Remarkably, Quintana has never been placed on the injured list in his career. He has thrown the most innings of any left-hander since the beginning of 2013. That durability factor was a main reason the Cubs felt comfortable trading top prospects in outfielder Eloy Jimenez and right-hander Dylan Cease to the White Sox for Quintana in July 2017. Quintana is 33-23 with a 4.23 ERA in his Cubs career.

With Quintana out, first-year manager David Ross' pitching options have slimmed dramatically in an organization that has struggled to produce homegrown pitchers for its rotation in the Epstein era. Among those who get more of an opportunity to earn a rotation spot or a big role will be 28-year-old right-hander Alec Mills (2.75 ERA in 36 innings for the Cubs in 2019), 30-year-old right-hander Colin Rea (14-4 with a 3.95 ERA in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League at Triple-A) and 25-year-old right-hander Adbert Alzolay (four appearances for Cubs last year).

The Cubs could also look for an unsigned free agent to help out their pitching depth.

"This injury certainly challenges our depth," Epstein said. "This is an area we had some concerns already. It will be important for certain players to stand up and make the most out of this opportunity. Clearly someone like Alec Mills is well-positioned to capitalize on this opportunity and establish himself as a starting pitcher in this league. Colin Rea led the PCL in ERA last year and moves up the depth chart. Adbert Alzolay -- who at his best was certainly able to compete as a starter in this league -- will have an opportunity to show he is at the top of his game. To be honest, we had some concerns about our starting pitching depth and now a freak injury further challenges us in that area. We have to respond."

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine​.