Injury roller coaster: Cubs get promising news on Adbert Alzolay, scratch Nico Hoerner from lineup vs. Braves

Cubs manager Craig Counsell watches from the dugout during Tuesday’s game against the Braves in Atlanta.

John Bazemore/AP

ATLANTA — The diagnosis was better than Cubs reliever Adbert Alzolay expected. Imaging showed that he sustained a flexor strain in his right elbow.

“We were pretty concerned,” Alzolay said Tuesday before the Cubs’ 7-0 loss against the Braves, “but I think it’s not going to be that bad.”

He avoided the worst-case scenario — Tommy John surgery — and was instead dealing with a familiar ailment. Alzolay came back from a similar forearm injury in September last season. This go-around, the plan is for him to rest and undergo treatment for the next five days, Alzolay said, and then decide if he can start throwing.

“We still have a pitcher on the injured list with an elbow issue,” manager Craig Counsell said. “But I think overall it was good news. . . . We have some light at the end of the tunnel quickly.”

The timing wasn’t ideal, with the Cubs’ bullpen depth already decimated by injuries and Alzolay making progress mechanically.

“It’s a bad feeling,” Alzolay said, “because I was finally feeling like more of myself, velo was coming back and everything, and then this happens. So it’s just kind of frustrating.”

A long-term injury, however, would have been a much bigger blow for a team that’s already searching for ways to stabilize their bullpen. The Cubs traded for right-handed reliever Tyson Miller, who joined the team Tuesday.

Miller, like injured relievers Alzolay and Yency Almonte (strained right shoulder) matches up well against right-handed hitters. But general manager Carter Hawkins said that the Cubs didn’t limit their search to relievers with that profile.

“It’s safe to say that we’re looking for any good pitcher and any good reliever right now,” Hawkins said. “So we will continue to do that. His profile happened to be one that can get right-handers out and fits well with some of the injuries that we’ve had. But we certainly won’t be picky as we’re looking for upgrades, and we’ll continue to make sure we’re canvassing every opportunity for that.”

As the Cubs’ fortune has played out all season, as soon as they got relatively positive news about Alzolay’s injury, they scratched shortstop Nico Hoerner from the lineup with a tight left hamstring.

Counsell said Hoerner “tweaked it a little bit” in batting practice. He wanted to warm up for the game and see how he felt. The Cubs will reevaluate him Wednesday.

The Cubs have put 14 players on the IL so far this season. That doesn’t include players who are dealing with ailments that haven’t been severe enough to land them on the list. Third baseman Christopher Morel, for example, has had a myriad of bumps and bruises — finger, hip, toe — that he has played through.

Injuries, and particularly a rise in pitchers’ injuries, have been a concern MLB-wide this year.

“I had an hourlong call this morning with our pitching guys,” Hawkins said, “talking through different ideas we have, ways to better prepare players for the workloads that happen up here in the big-leagues. Candidly, I was having the same meetings 15 years ago in Cleveland, and I expect to have them
15 years from now, hopefully here. I don’t think it’s ever something that we’ll ever stop doing.”

The Cubs needed their bullpen depth Tuesday, asking relievers to cover four innings after starter Jameson Taillon allowed seven runs — only two of which were earned because of his own fielding error — in four innings.

Sidearmer Jose Cuas showed the work he has done on his slider in two scoreless innings, limiting the Braves to one hit.

Miller finished the game, facing just one over minimum, with the help of a leaping catch halfway up the wall by center fielder Pete Crow-Armstrong in the eighth inning.

The Cubs were shut out by the Braves for the second game in a row.

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