Lilly's shoulder adds to Cubs' pitching needs

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Given all of the indications that the team had no plans to offer free agent Rich Harden arbitration this winter, the Cubs must have been feeling confident about their 2010 rotation. Big-money pitchers Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster were set to lead the way, with rookie surprise Randy Wells and summer acquisition Tom Gorzelanny likely to follow. Maybe the Cubs would take a chance on a rehabbing veteran, but they felt their rotation was set.
Alas, plans have already gone awry with the news Wednesday that Lilly underwent shoulder surgery and was questionable for the start of the season. No major damage was found, but pitchers don’t recover from shoulder scopes quickly. If the Cubs had him back at 100 percent by May 1, they’d undoubtedly be thrilled.
Of course, the Cubs should be able hold down the fort until then, perhaps with Sean Marshall. But it’s not like Lilly’s injury will be the only one they have to deal with. The typically durable Zambrano spent time on the DL this year, and Gorzelanny has dealt with his share of elbow issues. Wells was a revelation in 2009, but he didn’t show the kind of strikeout rate that suggests he’ll be anything more than a fourth or fifth starter going forward.
Fortunately, there will be plenty of guys worth taking chances on this winter. Rehabbing pitchers like Ben Sheets, Justin Duchscherer and Kelvim Escobar will be available at varying levels of cost. Injury-prone starters such as Pedro Martinez, Carl Pavano and John Smoltz could at least bridge the gap until Lilly returns and contribute off an on throughout. There will also be arms with less upside, like Jose Contreras, Braden Looper (probably) and Jeff Weaver.
The Cubs could have chosen to get by without any of them and used the savings to aid the rest of the team. However, that wouldn’t necessarily have been the smart strategy even before the Lilly news. Marshall is important in the pen, and there’s no telling what Jeff Samardzija will provide. The Cubs needed more starting pitching depth either way.

Clayton Kershaw might return to the Dodgers’ rotation next week

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Dodgers southpaw Clayton Kershaw is nearing his return to the mound, according to club manager Dave Roberts. Both Kershaw (left biceps tendinitis) and fellow lefty Rich Hill (left middle finger blister) are scheduled to toss simulated games on Saturday; depending on the outcome, Roberts says Kershaw could forgo a minor league assignment and slot back into the rotation by Thursday.

Kershaw, 30, was diagnosed with biceps tendinitis as the team closed out their Mexico Series at the start of the month. He has not made a start in several weeks, but was finally able to resume throwing on Sunday and managed to get through two successful bullpen sessions. Though Dodgers’ ace hasn’t been completely injury-free over his 11-year career in the majors, this is the first significant issue he’s had with his pitching arm so far. The team is expected to take every precaution with the lefty, and will likely limit him to just four innings during Saturday’s simulated game.

Prior to his injury, Kershaw was working on another dominant run with the club, sporting a 2.86 ERA, 2.0 BB/9 and 9.8 SO/9 through his first 44 innings of the season. While Kershaw, Hill and left-handed starter Hyun-Jin Ryu served their respective terms on the disabled list this month, the Dodgers utilized a combination of relievers Ross Stripling and Brock Stewart, both of whom impressed during their limited time in the rotation.