CHICAGO – Japanese right-hander Kyuji Fujikawa was signed by the Cubs to be the man in the bullpen.
Earning at least $9.5 million over the next two seasons came with the expectation Fujikawa would be the man to shut down the opposition and secure the win in the ninth inning as the Cubs’ closer. Instead, his Cubs career could be grounded before it ever truly took off.
An MRI revealed Fujikawa needs Tommy John surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and will miss at least the rest of this season.
“I was definitely disappointed, but it’s kind of my style to always have that worst case scenario in mind,” Fujikawa said through a translator. “I gave it all out [on the field] and I don’t have any regrets.”
On his 35th and final pitch of Sunday’s game at Cincinnati – ball four to Joey Votto – Fujikawa felt discomfort in his right forearm and came out of the game. He was initially put on the 15-day disabled list Monday with a muscle strain of his right forearm, the same injury that landed him on the DL in April. Asked if he believed there was a specific reason for his injury, Fujikawa said “getting injured is a reality so I don’t think we need to dig into that.”
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said there were no indications his first forearm injury led to the ligament damage. Although Hoyer was cautiously optimistic about Fujikawa’s injury Monday, the 32-year-old told Japanese reporters he felt a pop when he threw his last pitch to Votto.
“The thing about him saying he felt a pop, to be candid, I think we were hoping that it might have been something that maybe got lost in translation or changed in translation, but obviously I think he was right,” Hoyer said.
Fujikawa’s injury leaves the Cubs’ bullpen in a bit of a bind. As their setup man, Fujikawa had done a good job of getting the ball to closer Kevin Gregg with the Cubs’ lead still intact since coming off the DL. Now manager Dale Sveum will have to mix and match in the seventh and eighth innings. Carlos Marmol, Rafael Dolis and Carlos Villanueva will be the primary options.
Fujikawa’s surgery has not been scheduled, but he will likely be out at least 12 months. Fujikawa is set to make $4 million next season though he can make more money if he is the Cubs closer. Sveum said it is too early to think about what his role would be next season, however the assumption when Fujikawa signed was that the closer job was his – especially since Marmol is currently in the final year of his deal.
Fujikawa has proved, when healthy, he has the talent to compete in the majors. In his seven outings since coming off his first DL stint, Fujikawa had a 1.17 ERA and struck out 10 batters while walking only one (Votto) in 72/3 innings. What appeared to be a great signing with all of the Cubs’ bullpen troubles now seems to be a lost investment.
“The hard thing about this is we were getting pretty excited about what he could do for us because he was throwing the ball well, was missing a lot of barrels, a lot of bats,” Hoyer said. “So the timing is disappointing, but we’re confident we’ll get a really good pitcher back next year.”