Banged-up Chicago Cubs lose left-hander Jordan Wicks to the 15-day injured list with a forearm strain

BOSTON — Chicago Cubs left-hander Jordan Wicks knows he must be smart early in the season.

It doesn’t make the current situation any less frustrating for Wicks, who was put on the 15-day injured list Sunday with a left forearm strain. Wicks becomes the third Cubs starting pitcher currently on the IL.

The Cubs made three other moves before their series finale against the Boston Red Sox, recalling reliever Daniel Palencia and optioning lefty reliever Luke Little to Triple-A Iowa. Left-hander Richard Lovelady was added to the 40-man roster and brought up from Iowa.

Wicks experienced a little soreness while warming up before his start Tuesday, but once he got hot and the game was underway it went away. However, his forearm didn’t bounce back well following his start and Wicks again felt soreness and tightness when throwing twice in four days since his outing. The tightness is located in the flexor tendon area of his left forearm, and Wicks described it as more lingering than when the issue has similarly cropped up a few times in the past.

In those instances, he would take a couple of days off from throwing and the soreness went away. But time off didn’t help his forearm calm down this time.

“I didn’t think anything of it, like, I just thought it was just some random soreness, whatever,” Wicks said Sunday of the initial soreness. “We just wanted to be precautionary this early in the season. There’s no reason to push it or put anything unnecessarily at risk. Obviously extremely frustrated that we had to do that, but it’s the best course of action going forward with the bigger picture in mind.

“We just don’t want to mess with it this early and we don’t want to like have to deal with it for months as we go.”

Wicks might get imaging done this week in New York for peace of mind, though he reiterated he is not overly concerned about the seriousness of the injury.

Manager Craig Counsell said the Cubs need to see how Wicks’ forearm responds in the next week to determine the next steps.

“The hope is that maybe we caught this soon enough that it’s just a short stay” on the IL, Counsell said.

Despite losing Wicks on Sunday, right-hander Kyle Hendricks (low back strain) and left-hander Justin Steele (left hamstring strain) could be back in the rotation soon. After throwing Saturday, Hendricks will likely get bullpen work Monday and Tuesday in New York, pitching coach Tommy Hottovy told the Tribune, and then hopefully plan a rehab assignment. Steele makes a rehab start Wednesday at Triple A, and the Cubs aren’t ruling out activating him after that but no decision has been made.

Steele ideally will throw 60-65 pitches for Iowa.

“It just depends where we’re at,” Hottovy said. “We just have to see how we get through that.”

Wicks is the fifth pitcher from the opening day roster to land on the IL in the first month of the season, including relievers Drew Smyly and Julian Merryweather. There are currently nine players on the 26-man roster who opened the season at Triple A, including Sunday’s starter Hayden Wesneski. Counsell views this as a chance for other pitchers to step up.

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“In the short term, these opportunities are going to strengthen us and strengthen these guys,” Counsell said. “Now certainly you want your best players out there, there’s no question about it, but we have to look at it as these are opportunities.”

The Cubs need Little to get back on track at Triple A. He possesses the potential to be a high-leverage reliever but must develop more consistency with his slider. Little needs it to be a more competitive pitch, especially against right-handed hitters. Counsell is confident that Little, who at this point last year was only in High A, will figure it out and continue to learn from the valuable big-league experience.

“Definitely there’ll be a next time around for sure that’ll go a little better,” Counsell said.

With so much change on the pitching staff from the injuries, Hottovy is an important figure in helping maintain consistency. Hottovy believes it’s important for him to give the pitchers confidence that they are going to be successful in whatever role the Cubs might use them in. He also makes sure catchers Yan Gomes and Miguel Amaya are on the same page with every new pitcher added to the staff.

“Just making sure I kind of stay even keel for those guys and then just helping communicate what’s going to make them more successful doing what they do best,” Hottovy said. “Just making sure there’s no gaps in that communication, I think it’s most important.”

Wicks’ 4.70 ERA doesn’t reflect how well he had been pitching in most of his five starts this season. Losing him for at least two weeks is certainly a blow yet something a resilient team has shown they can overcome this season thanks to their depth.