Marcus Stroman addresses his status and rare injury as his season hangs in the balance

CHICAGO — In the middle of the top of the sixth inning of Friday’s 4-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals, injured Chicago Cubs starter Marcus Stroman came up an elevator, walked through Wrigley and into the press-box cafeteria to talk to members of the media for the first time since it was revealed that he wouldn’t be returning from the injured list as soon as initially hoped.

The announcement of Stroman’s right rib cage cartilage fracture came as a surprise when it was announced on Wednesday and has generally been shrouded in mystery as to how it happened. Manager David Ross and team president Jed Hoyer had little explanation for how the rare injury occurred and Stroman did little to clear it up on Friday.

“I was throwing on Sunday in Toronto and I felt a little crampy feeling, nothing crazy,” Stroman said. “I threw my bullpen, got done with all my work and after I cooled down, it was kind of hard to breathe. Kind of in my diaphragm and rib area. So I went through some things with the trainers.”

A bizarre story only looked odder with Stroman coming up to the press box midgame to chat with reporters. It’s rare that players come up to that area at all, almost unheard of to see one do so during a game.

Stroman said the trainers wanted to rule out appendicitis or a gallbladder issue, which was done after he went to the emergency room when he arrived in Chicago. Even flying back from Toronto was initially a question before he was cleared to join the team on the charter home. Stroman said on Monday morning he underwent an MRI which revealed the true issue.

“It’s rare, very rare,” Stroman said. “They don’t see it much in baseball. With what they recommend, it’s kind of a gray area I feel. I trust a lot of doctors that have seen the MRIs, so I’m going to put trust in them and go from there.”

Stroman was questioned in multiple ways as to what could have possibly led to an injury that’s so rare in baseball. He said there was nothing that occurred in the weight room and he took grounders after his bullpen session like he often does in pregame and nothing odd happened during that either.

“Nothing glaring, nothing crazy,” Stroman said. “I’ve been taking ground balls my whole life, that’s nothing new. Once I cooled down I went right into the trainers, I told them it was from my diaphragm. It was behind my ribs and when I would exhale I would feel it. Nobody really had an answer at that time. And we’re all just trying to process it and figure it out right now.”

The concern was immediate from the Cubs’ side. While it wasn’t public knowledge until Tuesday, the team touched base with their pitchers following Sunday’s loss as Javier Assad was alerted that he’d likely be pitching Wednesday and Jameson Taillon was told he would be going on regular rest for Friday’s series opener against the Royals.

As far as a timeline for his return, Stroman repeatedly said he’s taking things “day by day” and that no one had any idea how long it could take to recover. Two weeks was just as reasonable as an expectation as six. The reality is, for every week that Stroman is down and not throwing, it will likely take that same amount of time to ramp back up. Anything beyond two weeks and the possibility that Stroman returns for the regular season has to dwindle.

His stint on the IL due to the hip issue was considered mild enough that he could return after a minimum stay on the shelf because he was throwing regularly. That’s not the case for Stroman currently.

“I can’t be too active,” Stroman said. “It’s not like I can do too much right now. I’ve talked to several doctors and I guess the best thing is it has to kind of heal itself. Hopefully a few weeks. I can’t go anywhere. I can barely turn right now. Breathing is tough at some points, to sit for long periods of time is pretty difficult.”

Stroman seemed to bristle at the suggestion that some may be wondering what’s taking him so long to return or that any of his issues aren’t serious.

“Why isn’t he coming back?” Stroman repeated back to a reporter. “I have a fracture in my rib cartilage. I bounce back quick. I came back from a fully torn ACL in five months. I’m a workhorse. I’m someone who throws and has for years. My history and my career speak for themselves.”

Stroman tore the ACL in his left knee in March of 2015 and returned to make four starts that September. After tossing 204 innings in 2016, he pitched in the World Baseball Classic the next spring and then followed that up with another 201 innings and a 3.09 ERA for the Toronto Blue Jays.

His willingness to go out and post is not really a question. But now his health and immediate future with the team certainly is.

Stroman called it “alarming” and “scary” when he started feeling the pain and they initially couldn’t diagnose the issue. He’s currently not getting any treatment beyond ice and other therapeutic agents. He took solace in the fact that it would recover fully in time, but he mentioned the frustration he felt that he wasn’t able to help his team right now as they find themselves in the middle of a heated race for a playoff spot.

Stroman has avoided being around the team as much since his mild hip issue turned into a much more serious rib cartilage fracture. It doesn’t sound like he’ll be around much as he rehabs either.

“There’s not much I can be doing right now to contribute,” Stroman said. “The team’s in a great place and everyone’s got a great routine. I’ve never been a big proponent of guys being there that aren’t going to contribute directly and can’t help the squad. I’m someone who knows their body pretty well. I’m hoping it’s fast-tracked and I’m hoping I feel better sooner than later and I can get back on a routine.”

With all the questions surrounding Stroman, the team is going to have to proceed as if he’s out for the season. Assad will have to continue the strong run he’s been on and Friday’s tough-luck loser, Taillon, can’t let last Sunday’s poor outing in Toronto be a regular occurrence going forward.

With or without Stroman, Friday’s 4-3 loss to a bad Kansas City Royals team isn’t something the Cubs can allow to happen much more often. They’re three games into a 12-game stretch that many see as an opportunity to catch the first-place Milwaukee Brewers. They’ve started those two weeks of games going 1-2.

All isn’t lost, of course. If the Cubs have proven anything, it’s that they’re a resilient bunch that doesn’t let bad moments linger beyond that day. They’ve looked dead in the water multiple times this season already only to reemerge and assert their presence in an authoritative fashion. Even if he’s watching from afar, Stroman hasn’t lost any faith in this group.

“I’m the biggest believer in this team,” Stroman said. “You’ve heard how I’ve talked about this team since spring training, nothing has changed. I think we’re right in the thick of it. You see how we’re playing, I think we can win the division. Once you’re in the playoffs, it’s anyone’s game. No one’s a bigger believer in the Cubs than me.”

(Photo of Marcus Stroman: Dustin Satloff / Getty Images)

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