GOODYEAR, Ariz. - Cubs right-hander Scott Baker likely will miss at least the first half of the season after an exam on his rebuilt pitching elbow determined he suffered a muscle strain while pitching in his first official spring training game March 17.
The team said Baker won't start throwing a ball again for another month. A rehab program at that point would take at least another two months to prepare him for a major-league game.
Until suffering the setback, Baker was expected to join the Cubs' rotation in mid-April - close to the one-year anniversary of his Tommy John surgery.
``It's bad news," manager Dale Sveum said. "He's somebody you were obviously counting on to be there whenever it was going to be - mid-April or May. So that's bad news whenever you lose a little bit of depth, but it's just going to take a little bit longer."
Baker, who had not had a setback during his rehab process until that game a week ago, signed a one-year, $5.5 million deal with the Cubs last fall. The Cubs said at the time they looked at Baker as a potential candidate for a longer-term contract, depending on his recovery and results this year.
"This is obviously a setback, but not where he won't be able to pitch this season,'' Sveum said.
"We do have the luxury with the depth that we have," he added.
Sveum has left-hander Travis Wood and right-hander Carlos Villanueva in his opening rotation with Baker and Matt Garza (lat strain) opening on the disabled list.
They join Jeff Samardzija, Edwin Jackson and Scott Feldman.
--Outfielder Dave Sappelt, who was hit on the neck with a throw while running the bases Saturday, is expected to miss two to three days because of the bruise.
--The Cubs on Sunday optioned reliever Rafael Dolis to Class AAA Iowa, leaving three pitchers left for the final bullpen spot: left-hander Hisanori Takahashi and right-handers Cory Wade and Zach Putnam.