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Counting on Yu? Cubs ‘hopeful,’ Theo says after Darvish’s encouraging sim game

Darvish (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

The last thing the Cubs are thinking with right-hander Yu Darvish at this point of an absentee season is that he’s going to be the September cavalry that rides in and rescues the starting rotation in the final weeks of the season.

But the way the Cubs reacted to his three-inning simulated game Tuesday, their big-ticket free agent might be ready to start a minor-league rehab assignment just in time to create that kind of expectation.

‘‘He was competing well out there and spinning the ball really well,’’ team president Theo Epstein said after watching the 55-pitch performance.

Barring a setback, Epstein suggested the next step for Darvish will be a rehab start. That might come as soon as Sunday or Monday at Class A South Bend, with just enough time left in the minor-league season for him to get three or four starts.

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‘‘We’ll see how he feels,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘It’s been a long road back, so there’s no point in rushing him now. We probably have one chance, given where we are on the calendar, to get this right, so that’s the priority.’’

Darvish, who hasn’t pitched since May, suffered a setback with soreness near his right elbow during his lone rehab appearance in June. The Cubs have been painstakingly deliberate with his throwing progression since a second medical opinion and a cortisone shot a few days after that.

<em>Epstein (left) and coach Mike Borzello watch Darvish throw to Victor Caratini Tuesday.</em>
Epstein (left) and coach Mike Borzello watch Darvish throw to Victor Caratini Tuesday.

The Cubs, who acquired veteran left-hander Cole Hamels at the non-waiver trade deadline to bolster their shaky, depleted rotation, aren’t pinning their National League Central title hopes on the boost Darvish might offer down the stretch.

‘‘I don’t think you ever get to that point,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘None of us can predict exactly what the outcome’s going to be, so you just have to be prepared for all the possible outcomes. You never want the performance of any one player to be the linchpin for the success of a club because, if you are, you’re being irresponsible and setting yourself up to fail.’’

That said, Darvish — who wasn’t available to the media after his simulated game — seems to be banking on making an impact on his return.

‘‘I think he wants it,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘The guys around him every day feel that. He’s going about his business like someone who’s on a mission to come back and help this team.’’

The Cubs’ expectation at this point?

‘‘We’re hopeful,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘We’re trying to do everything we can to put him in a position to succeed, and right now there have been a lot of good signs, which is certainly better than where we were six weeks ago.’’

Skipper adrift?

Epstein praised the work manager Joe Maddon has done with an injury-compromised team all season but put off the idea of extension talks with a year-plus left on Maddon’s five-year contract.

‘‘Nothing like that is even a thought in our mind right now,’’ Epstein said, echoing recent comments by Maddon. ‘‘We’re just focused on trying to make the absolute most of this season. . . . I’d say the appropriate time for us internally is to start thinking about that after we’ve played our last game of the year.’’

Bryant update

Third baseman Kris Bryant, who has been sidelined for three weeks by recurring shoulder pain, has ‘‘turned the corner’’ with his rehab work, Epstein said. The Cubs, however, still won’t provide a timeline for his return.