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‘Barking’ knee sidelines Kris Bryant again, raises questions about status down stretch

The knee has flared up at times since he originally hurt it on a slide in Cincinnati in late June, more recently costing him two of the last five games.

Kris Bryant.

MILWAUKEE — For the second time in five days, Cubs All-Star third baseman Kris Bryant was forced to the bench by an ailing right knee that has bothered him since banging it on a headfirst slide in late June.

“It’s still barking,” said manager Joe Maddon, who sat Bryant on Tuesday ahead of a scheduled day off and decided to sit him Sunday when they talked after his 0-for-3 game Saturday.

“It’s bothering him in all aspects of the game,” Maddon said.

Bryant, who spent pregame time Sunday getting treatment, said earlier in the series he expected to manage the issue down the stretch and downplayed its impact on his performance.

His last homer came Aug. 21. Since then, he’s hitting .220 with a .668 OPS and 20 strikeouts in 50 at-bats. Bryant’s status will be determined daily over the final 20 games.

Kimbrel update

Closer Craig Kimbrel played catch Sunday morning, the first time he has thrown since the day after experiencing elbow soreness in his last outing a week earlier.

He and the club expect him to be activated from the injured list to rejoin the bullpen by the end of the week.

Contreras back

After sitting out the last two games, in large part because of the Cubs’ cautious plan for easing him back from a hamstring injury, All-Star catcher Willson Contreras was back in the lineup.

He walked and scored on Jason Heyward’s homer in the ninth.

Maddon said the medical staff was “adamant” about not playing Contreras on Friday after reaching base seven times Tuesday and Thursday, cautioning that the first few games back from an injury of that nature are the games of greatest risk for re-injury.

“You’ve got to follow the plan,” Contreras said, “and understand there’s a lot of games to play.”

He should get more time the next four days in San Diego.

Big debut

Eight years after the Mariners drafted him with the No. 2 overall pick in a star-studded first round, left-hander Danny Hultzen made his big-league debut for the Cubs in the seventh inning.

With multiple shoulder surgeries and countless comebacks behind him, Hultzen, 29, hit the first batter he faced, Christian Yelich, then allowed a single to Ben Gamel before striking out Eric Thames, Hernan Perez and Cory Spangenberg to finish the inning.

“I had my adrenaline pumping, but once I threw that first pitch, it was baseball again,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of great advice from a lot of these guys about not trying to fight the adrenaline but just kind of accepting this is life, this is it, this is what you’ve worked so hard for. Just enjoy it, embrace it.”

Crew cut

The Cubs finished the season 9-10 against the Brewers, including losses in five of the last six meetings (and a 3-7 mark at Miller Park).

It’s the first time since 2013 the Cubs have lost the season series to the Brewers.

This and that

Jon Lester hadn’t allowed an earned run in 13‰ innings against the Brewers in two previous starts this season before Sunday (eight earned runs, 5„ innings).

• The next home run Lester allows will tie his career high of 26 (2017).

• Heyward’s 19th home run of the season was his first since Aug. 18.