GENEVA – Approaching two years removed from his last start in the majors, Cubs right-hander Scott Baker understands his journey back from Tommy John surgery will require he shake off a lot of rust.
A return to the Cubs’ rotation in August seems ambitious considering his second consecutive rough rehab start at Single-A Kane County. On Friday, Baker lasted only 2 2/3 innings after giving up six runs on six hits. Four of those runs came in the first inning when Great Lakes batted around. Most concerning was Baker’s lack of command. He walked the first batter to start each of his three innings. Of Baker’s 60 pitches, 36 were for strikes. Falling behind in the count was the norm for Baker, who did not figure in the decision for the Cougars.
“Obviously, you'd like to see better results, no doubt about it,” Baker said. “But I think that's a byproduct of having good mechanics and being able to execute pitches. Right now that's just not the case. I'm feeling for it a little bit mechanically.”
It is understandable Baker hasn’t been sharp in his two rehab starts (allowing 10 total runs) as his last big league appearance came Sept. 24, 2011, while with the Twins. Baker said his next bullpen session will be important in determining where he’s at in the rehab process.
“To sit here and dwell over this outing or read into it too much, it's really not going to do myself any good,” Baker said. “ … I've just got to get right mechanically. When that happens, everything comes out better, not just the fastball.”
Asked if August can still be considered a reasonable timetable, Baker said, “I hope so,” but added that the decision is up to the Cubs.
“I had no adverse effects,” Baker said of his elbow. “It's really becoming an afterthought. At this point I think it's just focusing on mechanics and executing pitches.”
The Cubs gave Baker a one-year, $5.5 million deal in the offseason with contract escalators centered on his innings pitched. They want Baker in the rotation before the season ends, especially if they lose Matt Garza to a trade before the July 31 deadline. While Baker, who doesn't know where he will make his next rehab start, won't be ready by July 31, he can provide late-season consistency in the rotation and help the Cubs avoid shuttling starting pitchers back and forth from Triple-A Iowa.
"It just feels like everything is a bunch of different pieces right now," Baker said. "That'll come. Sometimes it's like a light switch. You have to find it, get back to the basics sometimes and find the keys."