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Reason for optimism in Ben Zobrist return to Cubs?

“There’s been some more definition to how he hopes this thing might go,” team president Theo Epstein said.

Wild Card Game - Colorado Rockies v Chicago Cubs
Zobrist during last fall’s wild-card game.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES – Recent discussions between club officials and Ben Zobrist suggested “a little definition added” to a scenario in which the former World Series MVP would return to the team this season, team president Theo Epstein said Thursday.

“I think he’s got an idea in mind how he’d like this to go,” said Epstein who has “been in constant touch” with Zobrist. “But his priorities are clear that it’s family first, and so for the immediate future that’s what he’s going to be tending to. … There could be a point later on where that would allow him to theoretically come back, but nothing’s been determined yet.

“There’s been some more definition to how he hopes this thing might go.”

Zobrist has been on the restricted list since taking personal the first week of May to tend to family issues. He and his wife each filed for divorce the following week.

Zobrist, 38, has missed enough time that team officials expect him to need a significant period of spring-like work and a minor-league rehab assignment once he were to decide to return.

“We’d all love to see him back here, and he’d love to be back,” Epstein said. “We’ll see how things evolve.”

L.A. litmus test?

The Cubs opened a four-game series against the Dodgers on Thursday night that will mark the teams’ last meetings before a possible third playoff class in four Octobers.

“I don’t look at it as a benchmark or anything,” said Epstein, who nonetheless said the team noted the challenge when the schedule was released of this seven-game trip that started with a flight to Colorado after a Sunday night game at home.

“Having to get through three games there and then come here and face this starting pitching and this lineup for four days, it’s a pretty good test,” he said. “Hopefully, we fare well out there and take a breath and see where we’re at.”

Thursday’s opener featured a marquee pitching matchup of left-handed aces in Clayton Kershaw and the Cubs’ Jon Lester – their second meeting, first since 2017 when neither pitched five innings.

Kyle Schwarber hit Kershaw’s first pitch of the game over the centerfield wall during a two-run first Thursday, and Kris Bryant added a homer leading off the third as the Cubs opened a quick lead – with Lester retiring the first six Dodgers he faced.

Edwards to IL

The Cubs put one of their hottest relievers, Carl Edwards Jr., on the 10-day injured list Thursday because of a “left thoracic strain” in his upper back near his non-throwing shoulder, the move retroactive to Monday.

Edwards, who said he felt the issue after Sunday’s outing, downplayed the severity and suggested he should be ready to return when eligible Thursday against the Mets.

“I definitely feel I’ll be able to pick up where I left off,” said Edwards, who has a 2.03 ERA in 15 appearances since returning from a month-long demotion to the minors, with 15 strikeouts and three walks.

If there’s an upside for the Cubs it’s that they were able to add a left-hander to the bullpen for the Dodgers series with Tim Collins recalled from Class AAA Iowa.

“They’re pretty balanced,” manager Joe Maddon said, “But some of their more pertinent guys are left-handed so it is nice.”

Notes: Newly signed closer Craig Kimbrel threw 24 pitches in live batting practice session in Arizona on Thursday and is expected to throw one more over the weekend before he’s evaluated for a possible next step of game action with Iowa.

The day after reliever Steve Cishek was struck on the inside of his right knee while playing catch with teammate Brandon Kintzler on Wednesday, he still appeared at least a day away from returning to action because of the bad bruise.