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Cubs notes: Maples, Collins return to bolster bullpen; Almora homers again

Pedro Strop had a scheduled bullpen session Saturday.

Albert Almora is congratulated after his homer.
Cubs center fielder Albert Almora is greeted in the dugout after scoring against the Reds in the eighth inning Saturday at Wrigley Field.    
David Banks/Getty Images

The Cubs brought back two relievers Saturday to bolster their exhausted bullpen.

Right-hander Dillon Maples and left-hander Tim Collins returned from Class AAA Iowa a day after four Cubs relievers combined to allow three runs, five hits and three walks in three innings.

The bullpen has seen plenty of action of late. Nine of the Cubs’ last 14 games have been decided by two runs or fewer.

Cubs relievers had thrown 13 innings in the last three games entering Saturday against the Reds.

“We’ve been in nearly every game we’ve been playing,” manager Joe Maddon said, “so it’s difficult to give guys breaks.”

Maples flashed some of his big-league potential during his first stint with the Cubs this season between April 26 and May 6. He struck out six in 2‰ innings without allowing a run but walked five batters.

Maples went to work right away, throwing two-thirds of an inning and being credited with the victory Saturday. He walked a batter and struck out another.

Collins, who signed a contract with the Cubs in March, appeared in four games in April and allowed one run in 3„ innings with two strikeouts.

Maddon is confident either could emerge as a staple of the bullpen if given the opportunity.

“They all have other pitches to go with the velocity,” Maddon said. “They have the ability to pitch here and pitch well for a long time. It’s need and it’s opportunity.”

Strop ‘getting very close’

Pedro Strop had a scheduled bullpen session and likely will throw another one in the next couple of days, Maddon said.

Strop, on the injured list with a strained left hamstring, is “getting very close” to a return, Maddon said.

By the end of the week, Maddon said he’d know whether Strop would be ready for a rehab assignment.

“Everything is up in the air,” he said of Strop’s timetable to return.

Almora power

Albert Almora’s home run in the second inning was his fifth in May and sixth of the season. He already has surpassed his 2018 total of five.

Almora connected on Tyler Mahle’s 3-1 pitch and drove it 415 feet to the opposite field.

“I wanted to hit the ball hard, and it just happened to be middle away,” Almora said. “Pitchers aren’t going to throw you in on days like this, so you got to just hit the ball where it’s pitched.”

Honoring an icon

Maddon opened his morning media briefing with a tribute to Gerry Fraley, a sportswriter who spent three decades with the Dallas Morning News.

Fraley, who covered the Rangers for most of his career in Dallas, died Saturday morning after a two-year fight with cancer.

“Gerry, with that flowing hair, he’d come into the dugout always upbeat and always had a well-thought-out question. . . . He was a really good reporter. Loved baseball.”

Maddon said he counted Fraley as a friend, and the two saw a lot of each other when Maddon was a coach and manager with the Angels and Rays.

“Just a sweet, sweet man,” Maddon said. “Loved the game and loved to report the game.”