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Lackey, Strop anticipating returns from DL within days

John Lackey

The Cubs’ banged-up pitching staff is expected to get a lot healthier and stronger in the next five days.

Veteran starter John Lackey (shoulder) fared well in a bullpen session Monday and is scheduled for what might be his final one Thursday before being activated from the DL.

Barring a setback, he would start Sunday’s finale of a four-game series against possible playoff opponent San Francisco.

Late-inning teliever Pedro Strop, who was expected to miss four to six weeks after arthroscopic knee surgery for a meniscus tear, said he expects to beat that projection by a few days and rejoin the bullpen early next week in Milwaukee.

“I’ve been sprinting and everything,” said Strop, whose latest bullpen session was Monday – not long after his hard-charging effort to return quickly was reined in by team officials. “Even Theo [Epstein] told me, `No one’s going to take your job.’

“But when I threw a bullpen [Monday], they knew what I was talking about.”

Seeking solid footing

Four concerts by three different acts while the Cubs were out of town recently visibly chewed up the outfield grass at Wrigley Field, particularly in right and center.

“All I know is there’s really not much I can do about it,” said right fielder Jason Heyward, when asked about the playing conditions. “We handled it how we had to handle it.”

Tuesday night, second baseman Javy Baez slipped and looked back at the ground after gliding into right field for a popup to end the first.

But manager Joe Maddon said before the game: “There were no concerns about safety. It was just a little bit quicker with the grass being trampled down a bit. But nobody came in and complained about anything after the game.”

The outfield grass is scheduled to be replaced during the upcoming 10-day road trip, raising the question of how playable and firm it will be after such a short time.

“We’ll deal with that, too,” Heyward said. “It is what it is, and we’ll just show up and play and make the beset of everything and adjust to that.”

Theo: no dramatic Schwarber comeback

Those arriving early to the ballpark down the stretch might glimpse Kyle Schwarber (knee) back to work doing baseball activities he recently was medically cleared to start.

But don’t start dreaming about some Game 1 Kirk Gibson moment or Game 7 Willis Reed performance in October.

Team president Theo Epstein this week ruled out a postseason return from the season-ending knee injury for the Cubs’ young slugger.

Note: After throwing just 39 pitches in his start Saturday in Los Angeles, right-hander Jason Hammel has been moved up one day to make his next start Wednesday against the Pirates. That pushes left-hander Mike Montgomery back one day to Thursday’s opener against the Giants.