Schwarber still in play for leadoff? Hesitant Theo says it’s up to Joe

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Cubs president Theo Epstein with manager Joe Maddon.

Manager Joe Maddon is emphatic that batting leadoff was not a factor in the seasonlong hitting struggles that resulted in Kyle Schwarber’s two-week demotion to the minors.

Schwarber said Thursday that he agrees, and Maddon didn’t rule out putting him back at the top once he starts hitting consistently.

But during his tetchy media session, team president Theo Epstein didn’t seem as thrilled with the idea.

“My thought in that is it’s impossible to know [if it was a factor],” Epstein said. “I think it makes sense [Thursday] to put him where he’s at.”

Schwarber played left field and batted fifth, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and two grounders into the right-side shift. He’s hitting .168 with a team-leading 77 strikeouts.

Asked if he’d just as soon see Schwarber kept out of the leadoff spot, Epstein said, “I’d just as soon leave that up to Joe.”

He and Maddon discussed the subject for about 10 seconds leading up to Schwarber’s recall, Epstein said.

“I gave my input,” he said. “But it’s ultimately his call.”

Cubs leadoff hitters have combined for a .324 on-base percentage, which ranks in the middle of the pack in the National League, and 51 runs, which rank near the bottom. Schwarber hit .185 with a .304 OBP as the leadoff man before being dropped in the order seven weeks in.

Hendricks close

Starter Kyle Hendricks, who has been on the disabled list for a month because of tendinitis in the middle finger of his right hand, plans to throw a second bullpen session Friday, after which the club might schedule a minor-league rehab assignment.

That could put him on track for a best-case-scenario return by the end of the team’s first road trip after the All-Star break (July 14-19).

“I feel pretty normal,” last year’s major-league ERA champ said. “When I come back, hopefully I can just start going deep into some games and pick up a lot of innings for the rest of this staff and this bullpen.”

Lackey to DL

Making room on the roster for Schwarber, right-hander John Lackey went on the 10-day disabled list with plantar fasciitis in his right foot that has worsened in his last two starts.

Because of the All-Star break, he wasn’t scheduled to pitch again for more than 10 days anyway and consequently isn’t expected to miss a start.

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