Jameson Taillon ‘Unlikely’ to Make First Turn, IL Stint Possible

Jameson Taillon got off to a slow start this spring as the Cubs eased him through some calf cramping and an adjustment to keep from striding open, but he was still on target for a full season. Well, until his lower back locked up during his pregame bullpen prior to what would have been his first Cactus League start. When things hadn’t improved much over the next two days, Craig Counsell admitted that Taillon probably won’t be able to go by the end of the month.

“Stiff lower back is still the diagnosis,” Counsell told reporters. “I think it is fair to say that Opening Day is unlikely in terms of getting him ready, just because of the missing the prep and the build-up. So, I think as we get him back on the field, that lets us kind of figure out a timetable.”

Missing the first turn through the rotation won’t be a big deal at all because the Cubs have two off days in their first six games, but the concern is that the back issue could linger. Even if everything goes well for Taillon, who did some weighted plyo work on Tuesday and has a throwing session planned for Wednesday, he almost certainly won’t be fully ramped by the time he’s ready to pitch in the regular season.

That means the Cubs would have to lean heavily on the bullpen or use a piggyback starter with him, which would jack up a rotation they’re already looking to lengthen. Shōta Imanaga is used to working as part of a six-man group and Kyle Hendricks could benefit from a little extra rest, so it’d be much better to build in some of that leeway early to let them get after it down the stretch if the Cubs are contending.

As such, it might be best to put Taillon on the IL to start the season so they can carry another healthy pitcher who’s able to put in starter’s innings. That fifth spot looks like it belongs to Jordan Wicks, but Drew Smyly, Hayden Wesneski, and Javier Assad are all vying for starts as well. How the Cubs view those players’ roles may determine who steps up while Taillon builds back.

If all of them are seen as relievers or swingmen, maybe Counsell opts for a bullpen game with at least two long men working. But if there’s a strong preference for one of them to remain stretched out, that’s where they’ll turn. I tend to view all three of them as better suited to the bullpen, with Smyly being most likely to get the nod as the elder statesman.

The Cubs have long been cagey when it comes to injuries, sometimes to the point of detriment, which is the only thing that worries me here. Though Taillon will probably miss just a start or two, I can’t shake the fear that this thing will end up costing him a month of the season. If that’s the case, I say they throw caution to the wind and just call Cade Horton up immediately. What the hell, right?

Okay, not really, but that would be fun.

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