MESA, Ariz. — Two openings in the bullpen the final week of Cubs camp?
Not if Pedro Strop can help it.
Strop, a late-inning mainstay for the team, hadn’t pitched all spring because of a calf injury before making his spring debut against minor-leaguers Monday.
“They say he threw great. The ball’s coming out really good,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Stropy stopped by to see me, and he said he felt awesome.”
In fact, Strop said he’s sure he can open the season on time despite there being only a week of exhibition games left on the schedule. That’s based on him pitching an inning Thursday against the Giants, then facing the Royals on Sunday and the Red Sox on Tuesday in the final spring exhibition in Fort Myers, Florida.
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“I’ve got plenty of time,” Strop said. “I’m ready.”
If he can’t go, that opens another short-term roster spot in addition to the bullpen job vacated with the release of Justin Grimm last week.
“Everything’s based on how he feels, how the ball’s coming out, where he thinks he’s at in conjunction with what the trainers are thinking,” Maddon said, adding that the Cubs might not have to take the decision down to the final day or two even if the decision is to clear Strop. “Even though he’s had an injury, his arm has not been shut down. He’s been throwing the whole time. That’s the good part about all this.”
Bat or arm?
The Cubs have said from the start of spring that their plan was to take an eight-man bullpen into the season. But now they aren’t ruling out the possibility of using the Grimm slot on a bench player.
“It’s not out of the question,” said Maddon, who has raved about veteran outfielder Peter Bourjos, a non-roster player, much of camp. “Love him. Absolutely love him. I’ve admired him from a distance for a while.”
But the decision isn’t just about whether to keep Bourjos or an eighth reliever. Maddon also mentioned the big spring that infielders Mike Freeman and Ryan Court are having.
“There’s a lot of guys that have been playing well,” he said. “Do you go with three catchers?
“For me, it’s always about the eight versus the extra guy on the bench. Who’s going to help you win more? But then, again, it’s also about maybe, possibly losing somebody you don’t want to lose.”
Right-hander Eddie Butler, one of the favorites for final bullpen consideration, is out of options and would be waived if he doesn’t make the big-league club.
The fact that the Cubs have only one day off in the first 11 days of the season could work in favor of keeping the extra pitcher — though Maddon noted he expects all five starters to be stretched out to 100 pitches by then. And he has long reliever Mike Montgomery at his disposal.
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