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Cubs closer Brandon Morrow to throw first spring bullpen session March 25

Brandon Morrow (John Antonoff photo)

MESA, Ariz. — Anybody seen Brandon Morrow?

The Cubs’ closer might be the least visible in camp halfway through spring training, certainly among the big-leaguers in camp expected to play a significant role for the team.

But anybody looking for a glimpse of Morrow throwing from a mound should circle March 25 on the calendar. That’s when he expects to throw his first bullpen session of the spring — the day before the Cubs break camp to open the season.

“I feel great,” he said Monday. “Just being behind sucks.”

Morrow’s timeline for a return about a month into the season hasn’t changed, and he said he has had no setbacks since starting his recovery from Nov. 6 surgery to “clean up” cartilage in his right elbow.

He played long toss again Monday, from 120 feet, and expects to extend that to 135 and 150 feet over seven more sessions before the bullpen.

Pedro Strop is expected to fill in for Morrow in the closing role until his return, with newcomer Brad Brach, Steve Cishek and possibly Brandon Kintzler in the mix as needed.

“I’d think people would have pretty good confidence in this bullpen, regardless of whether I was on this team or not,” Morrow said. “No worries about the guys in here.”

That’ll leave a mark

At one point during a simulated game Monday, starter Cole Hamels missed with a cut fastball and hit teammate Anthony Rizzo in the right shoulder.

Rizzo feigned going toward the mound but then stepped back in and continued the at-bat.

“That’s going to be a tough one,” Hamels said, smiling. “I’m sure he’s going to remind me daily as that bruise gets bigger and then starts to disappear over the next week. When you’re playing your team, you don’t want that to happen. But we still have to be game-ready.”

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Hamels approached Rizzo after the inning, and they laughed it out.

“I think Rizzo’s a nice enough guy he won’t do anything too serious against me,” Hamels said.

Jason Heyward and Ian Happ joined Rizzo as the batters in the simulated game, with minor-leaguers running the bases and playing in the field.

Mike Montgomery (two innings) and Kintzler (one) also pitched.

Dual purpose

Montgomery, the backup starter and multi-inning reliever, said he has learned to better manage the demanding hybrid role effectively. But that doesn’t mean he wants to be pigeonholed and stuck.

“I do want to start,” said Montgomery, whose career-high 19 starts last year were critical to the Cubs surviving Yu Darvish’s injury and Tyler Chatwood’s ineffectiveness.

“But I also understand where the game is. Being on a winning team, you go through more than five starters in a season. If I’m throwing my pitches the way I know how, I feel I can compete with anybody, and I’ll be a valuable member of the team. As long as I’m doing that, I’m happy.”

Montgomery was upset a year ago when the Cubs signed both Darvish and Chatwood instead of allowing him to compete for a full-time starting job.

After coming back from shoulder soreness early in camp to throw two innings in Monday’s sim game, Montgomery is expected to be stretched out the next few weeks and be ready to open the season in whatever role is needed.