Still struggling to break from a mediocre start — and trying to make sure they have enough pitching for hitter-friendly conditions this week at Wrigley Field — the Cubs called up right-hander Pierce Johnson on Wednesday from Class AAA Iowa.
Johnson, the first pitcher drafted by the Cubs under team president Theo Epstein, boosts the bullpen back to eight relievers and reduces the bench strength to four hitters.
The decision was made with Ben Zobrist’s return to the lineup in mind. The Cubs waited until Zobrist — sidelined for three games by recurring back pain — handled his pregame work without issue before making the move.
To make room, rookie infielder Jeimer Candelario was optioned back to Iowa, eight days after he had joined the club.
Johnson, the 43rd selection of the 2012 draft, had mixed results as a starter, including persistent command problems, and was converted to a reliever last season.
He is 2-0 with a 3.21 ERA in 12 appearances this season, including 21 strikeouts and 11 walks in 14 innings.
Felix Pena, the right-hander who had pitched well before being sent down last week to make room for an extra position player, was not eligible to be recalled because he had not spent at least 10 days in the minors.
Schwarber does damage
During batting practice, struggling leadoff man Kyle Schwarber hit a home run so hard and far to right field, it hit the Budweiser sign atop the video board, knocking out lights on the first three letters.
“Had some wind behind it, I guess, and it got up there, and you could see some wires fall. So I apologize in advance,’’ said Schwarber, who once hit a ball on top of the same video board during the 2015 playoffs. “I hope I don’t get a bill.’’
The Jet set
Of all the congratulatory texts and calls manager Joe Maddon received after earning his 1,000th managerial victory Tuesday night, the one from childhood hero Joe Namath resonated.
“As a young football player, I wore No. 12 and I wore white shoes because of this guy,” said Maddon, whose nickname as a high school quarterback in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, was “Broad Street Joe.”
“It’s pretty cool,” added Maddon, who befriended Namath years ago after becoming the Rays’ manager.
On the other hand, Maddon was asked if any current or former managers reached out.
“No,” he said with a laugh. “I’m just not well-liked. I’m not well-received.”
This and that
The Cubs announced after the game that outfielder Jason Heyward will go to Class A South Bend on Thursday for a rehab assignment that likely will last one day. That could mean a return from the DL on Friday.
◆ Coinciding with the 1,000th win, Maddon’s Respect 90 foundation donated 1,000 free meals each to the Sallie House in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the Evangeline Booth Lodge in Chicago for the homeless.
◆ With his third-inning solo shot, Reds shortstop Zack Cozart became the first visiting player since Carlos Beltran in 2004 to homer in five consecutive games at Wrigley Field.
◆ Left-hander Brett Anderson (back) played catch on the field the last two days as he builds up for his first bullpen session since going on the disabled list May 6. The team is expected to take a cautious approach with his rehab work and subsequent minor-league rehab assignment.
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