Before he was officially injured, Bubba Starling was playing hurt.
The Omaha outfielder said Friday, before his return to the lineup after a four-week stint on the disabled list, that he likely tore a side muscle on a throw to the plate at Iowa, but he knew it didn’t feel right before.
“I just kind of kept playing through it and didn’t think anything of it,” said Starling, who’d been out since July 9. “I felt it probably two or three weeks prior to when I really felt it. But I knew I could keep playing.”
Kansas City’s 2011 first-round draft pick, who walked twice while playing five innings in Omaha’s 6-5 victory over Iowa at Werner Park, had the injury checked over the All-Star break and the tear was revealed.
Starling resumed baseball activities recently while continuing to rehabilitate his injury. He was activated from the disabled list before Omaha’s game at Memphis on Thursday, but he didn’t play until Friday.
“I’ve been doing a lot of hitting lately, a lot of throwing, just to make sure I’m 100 percent,” he said. “It feels great. I’ve been itching to get back in there. But, obviously, I wanted to get fully healthy and make sure I’m ready to go.”
The oblique injury interrupted what was becoming a breakout season for Starling.
After struggling to a .121 batting average through his first 21 games, he hit .296 in his next 52 to turn his year around. Starling recorded at least one hit in 40 of those games and had a 12-game hitting streak in May.
“It was tough. I had my confidence going, and I was feeling pretty good up at the plate,” he said. “Our team was playing pretty well. But I’m back now. We’ll see what I can do to contribute. I’m looking forward to it.”
Starling said the injury never bothered him while swinging, only when making a long throw. He’s not counting on an immediate resumption of his hitting consistency — he batted .289 in May, .291 in June and .290 in July. But he said he doesn’t expect the time off to lead to any kind of offensive setback.
“I want to get some at-bats under my belt, see some pitches and get back in the groove,” he said. “When you take a few days off, it’s tough to pick the ball up again. And it’s going to be tough after these four weeks off. I’ll be all right.”
Omaha scored four runs in the second inning Friday to hand starter Onelki Garcia (6-2) his fifth consecutive victory. Catcher Brayan Pena highlighted the outburst with a two-out, two-run single.
The Cubs closed to one run on three occasions — 4-3, 5-4 and 6-5. Iowa had runners on the corners in the ninth inning when Kyle Zimmer struck out Chris Dominguez to end the game.