Cubs’ Scott Baker will end his long wait with start Sunday
BY TONI GINNETTI Staff Reporter September 6, 2013 8:48PM
Milwaukee Brewers v Chicago Cubs
Updated: October 8, 2013 6:12AM
It seemed inevitable that Scott Baker would get at least one start with the Cubs before September ended, even when manager Dale Sveum was saying there were no plans for it.
For the veteran to spend all season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery without a chance to show what he might have — and what the Cubs got for their one-year investment — wouldn’t have benefitted the organization or Baker.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked and worked his butt off,’’ Sveum said Friday after confirming Baker’s start Sunday against the Milwaukee Brewers. “There haven’t been any setbacks, and he deserves a chance to start. We’ll see what happens.’’
Baker and the Cubs know this is all about next season, especially if the Cubs find in Baker, who turns 32 on Sept. 19, another potential trade chip for July.
“It’s good for all parties,’’ Sveum said. “Obviously for us, and for him, as much as anything, this is a guy coming off Tommy John [surgery]. He’s had to be in Arizona [rehabbing] almost the whole year. He’s done everything we’ve asked. He’s been the ultimate professional and worked hard and done all he can to come back and be healthy.
“But it is good for him going into the winter and good for us to see him and evaluate to see what’s going to go on afterward.’’
The Cubs made a $5.5 million bet last winter that Baker could be pitching for them at some time in the first half of the season and either fit into the rotation or, like Scott Feldman, be successful enough to trade for prospects.
Baker’s 163-159 record in seven seasons with the Minnesota Twins and a year of recovery from his April 2012 surgery made it seem a reasonable risk.
But Baker’s recovery took far longer than expected, and the organization doesn’t want to cash in its chips with Baker potentially ready to produce.
“We had conversations of what to do next, and they value my opinion’’ Baker said. “I definitely felt it was important for me to continue to pitch and pitch through September. I told them there’s no way I can sit here and not pitch in a major-league game after going through this process for basically two seasons.’’
Baker might be healthy, but he isn’t back to normal.
His velocity is only in the 80s, which makes pitch location and pitch selection keys. He was able to get Class A hitters out in his most recent rehab starts, but he hasn’t faced major-leaguers consistently since the end of 2011.
After Baker’s last start Monday in Kane County, Sveum admitted few major-league pitchers can get by with that lack of velocity. But he also admitted it wouldn’t make sense to give up on Baker after investing a year to get him healthy.
“The bottom line is sometimes it doesn’t matter how hard you throw,’’ Sveum said.
If Baker gets more than one start, it will take away what’s left of the September opportunities for pitchers such as Jake Arrieta and Chris Rusin, who lasted 32/3 innings Friday because of control problems.
The Cubs might feel they’ve seen enough of Arrieta and Rusin to know how they will fare competing for the rotation next spring.
“We’ll cross that when we get to it,’’ Sveum said of the rotation. “We’ll let [Baker] start on Sunday and evaluate and see where we are then.’’
Baker is ready for any contingency.
“I’m just excited,’’ he said. “You never know when things can be taken away from you, so enjoy each and every start.’’