Cubs ‘don’t want to slow-play Cole Hamels’

The veteran lefty fared well enough in his first bullpen session Wednesday that he appears ahead of schedule for a possible return from the IL on Aug. 2 or 3.

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Cubs starter Cole Hamels’ first bullpen session during his rehab throwing program went well enough Wednesday that pitching coach Tommy Hottovy sounded optimistic about a timeline for his return from the injured list that aligned roughly with Hamels’ estimate of early August.

That would be barely a month since Hamels left a start June 28 in Cincinnati after one inning because of a left oblique strain.

Barring a setback in the aftermath of the 24-pitch session, Hamels is on track for a full-scale bullpen session over the weekend, with a minor-league rehab start likely after that.

“It really just depends where we are after that second bullpen, what our schedule looks like, where we’re going to be and see what our options are,” said Hottovy, who can manipulate the rotation with three scheduled days off in the next 12.

“Just because of how our schedule works, we have more of an opportunity to get him a rehab start [as opposed to a simulated game], and then work him in later. Also, if he feels good, we don’t want to slow-play Cole Hamels. He’s a guy we want in the rotation.”

Hamels, who was symptom-free by the All-Star break, was one of the hottest pitchers in the majors when he got hurt. He had a 1.22 ERA in June.

He said Tuesday he might be ready to return to the Cubs’ rotation around Aug. 1.

With the Cubs planning to go with a four-man rotation after another fill-in start by Alec Mills next week in San Francisco,

Hamels would slot ideally Aug. 2 or 3 at home against the Brewers.

Mills on tap

Mills earned another look after surviving a rough first inning Tuesday in the Cubs’ 4-3, 10th-inning victory over the Reds.

“If you insert Millsy at the right time [next week], things fall into place pretty well,” manager Joe Maddon said of the near-term rotation plans. “He’s definitely a big-league-caliber pitcher. I don’t think he’s a ‘4-A’ guy. He’s more than that. He just needs opportunity. This guy is a little bit better than people know.”

Mills gave up three runs in the first after retiring the first two batters, then pitched five scoreless innings in his first big-league outing of the season.

Almora gaffe

Albert Almora Jr. was back in the lineup and leading off after a ninth-inning gaffe Tuesday, when he hung his head and didn’t run until it was too late on a third-strike wild pitch with first base open and the score tied 3-3.

The potential winning run advanced to third on the play as Almora was thrown out for the second out, just ahead of Martin Maldonado’s strikeout.

“I sicced two coaches on him right after the game, and I’m waiting to hear back from them,” Maddon said. “That was really annoying at the moment, there’s no question, to everybody. You really need to be self-aware in that moment and try to run, obviously. I can’t defend that part of it.”

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