The offseason has been rough on the Cubs’ starting rotation, which lost Rich Harden to free agency, Ted Lilly to offseason shoulder surgery and potentially Carlos Zambrano to any number of cramp-related injuries. Fortunately, the team’s expert athletic trainers predict an early 2011 return for Lilly, the team’s most reliable pitcher over the past three seasons.

“Ted’s got a great work ethic and has been rehabbing really hard since his surgery,” said head trainer Mark O’Neal. “We’ve got him on the old towel drill, and his technique is some of the best I’ve seen in recent years. At the rate his shoulder’s been improving, he should be back at 80 to 90 percent by late August or early September 2011.”

Lilly feels confident in his progress as well.

“Guys before me dealt with┬áDusty Baker,┬ápeople here is really experienced with pitching injuries. There have also been a few great role models over the past few seasons,” said Lilly. “We’ve got Carlos Silva here now, who’s pretty much been on the DL his whole career. We had Rich Harden here last year, and that guy can get hurt walking back to the dugout. Not to mention Kerry Wood, who still holds the all-time record for most simulated game wins, simulated strikeouts and lowest simulated ERA. Those guys really set the bar high, but if I keep working hard, maybe someday I can be great like them.”

From the January 2010 issue by Drew Adams