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Three key relievers ‘trending well’ toward returns to Cubs in next several days

Brandon Kintzler (pec) is expected back Friday, with closer Craig Kimbrel (knee) also expected back during the road trip and Steve Cishek (hip) soon after.

Cincinnati Reds v Chicago Cubs
Craig Kimbrel said he expects to need “just a couple more days” before returning from a minor knee injury.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA – The Cubs opened their three-game series against the Phillies on Tuesday with exactly two members of their season-opening bullpen still on the roster and healthy.

Three of their top late-inning pitchers are on the injured list, and rookies were holding down three of the eight relief spots. And that was after one, Dillon Maples, was optioned back to Class AAA Iowa on Tuesday as left-hander Kyle Ryan returned from bereavement leave.

But the Cubs expect to get healthy in quick succession over the next week.

“All the reports are good on everybody,” manager Joe Maddon said of Tuesday’s progress with closer Craig Kimbrel (knee), and setup men Brandon Kintzler (pec) and Steve Cishek (hip). “It’s all encouraging.”

Kintzler threw from a mound for the second time Tuesday since going on the 10-day injured list and expects to return when eligible on Friday in Pittsburgh.

Kimbrel threw a first bullpen session since going on the IL and said afterward he felt good and expected to do fielding drills Wednesday, barring any kind of setback overnight.

He’s not expected to be activated on his first eligible day Wednesday, “but hopefully, it’s just a couple more days,” he said. “If it keeps progressing the way it is, absolutely. Everything was good.”

Cishek’s injury wasn’t serious enough to prevent him from initially pitching through discomfort, and the club said early evaluations in Chicago suggest a short-term IL stay. He’s expected to rejoin the team during the trip this week for rehab work.

“The relief pitchers are trending well,” Maddon said. “I want to believe they’re not going to be much longer than their dates.”

Zobrist to AAA

With Ben Zobrist scheduled to join Class AAA Iowa in Memphis for the start of a four-game series Thursday, his timeline for a return to the roster at the end of the month remains in play – which could put the entire roster at Maddon’s disposal at that point.

“You’d like to believe by the end of the month everything would be back in order probably,” Maddon said.

Zobrist, who homered twice and walked twice during a three-game stretch for advanced-A Myrtle Beach last week, is working back from three months on personal leave to take care of family matters related to his pending divorce.

After six games in the low minors, he’s expected to get a longer stretch of games at AAA before joining the team, likely spread over at least two stints of games. He’s expected to take another break from games after the Memphis series, at which point his next – and possibly final – step in the comeback process is to be discussed.

Phired Phriend

Former Cubs hitting coach John Mallee, who was fired by the Cubs after three seasons that included three NLCS appearances and a World Series title, was fired Tuesday by the Phillies and replaced by former Phils manager Charlie Manuel.

The news on the popular Mallee caught Phillies players and Cubs by surprise.

“I know when Bryce [Harper] signed over here [in February], that was the first thing I told him,” Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant said,” that I loved Mallee as a person and a coach, and you’re going to love him.”

Bryant won a Rookie of the Year award and MVP in his first two seasons with Mallee.

“You’re around a lot of people that really care, but he really stood out to me just with how much he cared for you as a player and as a person,” Bryant said. “I’ll always remember him as one of my favorite coaches of all-time.”