Brandon Morrow A Wild Card For Cubs Bullpen

By 670 The Score
MESA, Ariz. (670 The Score) -- While there will be much attention paid to whether closer Craig Kimbrel can return to his strong form, another key storyline in the Cubs bullpen is whether often-injured reliever Brandon Morrow can get and stay healthy.

Morrow is the wild card in the team's bullpen after missing the entire 2019 season because of arm injuries and signing a minor league deal in the offseason. When healthy, he boasts elite stuff. He just hasn't been healthy for the Cubs since July 2018. 

"There is a comfort level with this organization," Morrow said about why re-signed with the Cubs as a free agent. "We loved it in Chicago, and there was mutual interest."

Morrow underwent arthroscopic surgery on his elbow in November 2018. He also had a hydrodissection procedure to decompress a nerve in last July, a setback in his comeback attempt. After he was shut down in August, he then had nerve decompression surgery last September.

Morrow, 35, is feeling much better now but understands he has to prove himself. His goal is to make the Opening Day roster.

"I have pitched off of the mound a few times here already," Morrow said. "I am cautiously optimistic about getting back. I am excited about being with the Chicago Cubs. Unfortunately, I only got to do that for a half of a season. I didn't have any other major league opportunities, but I did have minor league offers. When you have a chance to be (with the Cubs), it made it an easy decision.

"My motivation is to get back and do it. There were a lot of missed opportunities, and my absence created a lot of problems the team had to address. Hopefully, I can come in and help us win. I hope by the end of spring training, (making the team) is where I am at. There is still a process with a lot of boxes to check. Yeah, I hope to be there at the end."

Pitching coach Tommy Hottovy has been encouraged by what he has seen from Morrow recently.

"Brandon is right on par with a normal spring training buildup," Hottovy said Monday. "He feels good, so as the intensity increases, that is where the recovery becomes more important. There is a difference between throwing 95-96 (miles per hour) in the bullpen opposed to a big league game."

Morrow was fantastic in the first half of 2018, posting a 1.47 ERA and converting 22 of 24 save chances. 

Since his last MLB appearance on July 15, 2018, it's been an injury-plagued and rehab-intensive life for Morrow. Every time it seemed like he was nearing a return, he encountered a health setback.

"The hardest part has been working my way back and it going the other way," Morrow said of his rehab process. "They gave me the hydrodissection surgery to clear the nerve a little bit, and I felt great for five days. Then it all came back. That kind of worked as a diagnostic that I should have it surgically repaired. I started throwing 10 weeks later, and now I have had four bullpens. I have some aches and stuff, but when I am throwing, it feels strong and lifting is OK with no pain. In some of my bullpens, I have had feelings that I could be ready relatively soon. Hopefully by the end of spring training, my arm is where I want it to be."

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