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Cubs’ Yu Darvish throws ‘loose and free’ during sim game, nears rehab assignment

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It looks like Yu Darvish will stick around just long enough to see Alex Rodriguez one more time before starting a minor-league rehab assignment.

Darvish, who hasn’t pitched since May 20 because of pain near his surgically repaired elbow, threw a 33-pitch, two-inning simulated game Wednesday without any apparent pain or problem.

Barring a setback, he’s expected to throw one more simulation, probably Sunday at Wrigley Field – with Rodriguez and ESPN in town for their first Cubs broadcast since Rodriguez criticized the $126 million pitcher for causing clubhouse problems by hanging around the team during his lengthy rehab process.

Darvish has made rapid progress since the July 29 comments, reporting his first pain-free throwing session in two months two days later. After another successful session Saturday he joked that he would print and frame anything Rodriguez might want to say to him should the former Yankees star choose to reach out.

Darvish

If Sunday goes as well as Wednesday appeared to go, Darvish could be in line to start a rehab assignment by the end of next week, which could mean a return to the rotation in early September – though the Cubs still refuse to estimate a timeline.

“You’ve got to treat it like spring training now,” manager Joe Maddon said of getting Darvish stretched out again. “You don’t want to push it too hard right now.”

Maddon said Darvish on Wednesday “looked loose and free,” reaching 93 mph with his fastball and showing off his curve and cutter.

“No negatives,” Maddon said.

Zo a no go

Hot-hitting Ben Zobrist, who left Tuesday’s game because of soreness at the front of his left hip, still was sore Wednesday and was kept out of the lineup.

“It was just bugging me a little bit more than normal,” said Zobrist, who called Tuesday’s move “precautionary” and expected to return to the lineup Friday after the team’s day off.

Zobrist said the soreness developed while he stretched and warmed up before Tuesday’s game and hampered his running during the game.

“He’s fine. Under different circumstances we may have pushed it a little bit more,” Maddon said of the roster’s eldest member – who is 23-for-51 (.451) since the All-Star break

“He’s doing so well,” Maddon said. “Why push this right now to the point where it becomes a little bit more chronic or serious and nobody benefits?”

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Umpteenth game and brink of history

Wednesday’s game was the 5,158th worked by home plate umpire, Joe West – who also was at second base for the first night game at Wrigley Field 30 years ago and worked right field during the Cubs’ Game 7 World Series victory in Cleveland.

In Cubs history he might be best known for fortuitous – and quick – rain delays: 17 minutes in Game 7 and 22 minutes in Monday’s victory over the Royals.

Next week, he’ll pass Bruce Froemming – whose infamous ball 4 call with two out in the ninth denied Milt Pappas a perfect game in 1972 – for second place on the all-time list of regular-season games umpired.

Hall of Fame ump Bill Klem, who worked the Cubs’ 1908 World Series, holds the record with 5,372 regular-season games.