Cubs’ rotation ‘coming together’; Marcus Stroman to start Thursday vs. Diamondbacks

The Cubs also activated reliever David Robertson from the COVID-19-related injured list Wednesday.

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Cubs right-hander Marcus Stroman is set to return from the IL to start Thursday against the Diamondbacks.

Cubs right-hander Marcus Stroman is set to return from the IL to start Thursday against the Diamondbacks.

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Cubs manager David Ross had been envisioning this rotation since spring training. A largely veteran rotation, plus a young arm with electric stuff. A balance of lefties and righties. A group that combined for a pair of All-Star nods and an ERA title.

“It’s just now finally all coming together on [May 18],” Ross said. “So that’s exciting from my seat.”

Why May 18? The Cubs penciled in right-hander Marcus Stroman for a return Thursday, scheduled to start the series opener against the Diamondbacks. Stroman had been on the injured list — with no injury designation, which generally means a COVID-19-related stint — for over a week.

In that time, the Cubs activated lefty Wade Miley from the 10-day IL (left elbow inflammation), and he’d made his first two starts as a Cub.

As the Cubs’ starters hit a groove, the team put together a season-high four-game winning streak, which ended Wednesday with a 3-2 loss to the Pirates. Lefty Drew Smyly allowed three runs in 4⅓ innings. But he was the Cubs’ most consistent starter in April as several of his rotation mates battled mechanical issues.

“I think the common thread is winning,” Ross said of the Cubs’ starters going deeper into games. “We’ve been able to win more ballgames from a great starting pitching group. I think the common thread is guys are starting to feel more comfortable and get into their rhythm.”

Fueling the winning streak, starters Kyle Hendricks, Justin Steele and Miley all threw at least into the sixth inning in their last starts. Hendricks recorded his third straight start of at least 5⅔ innings. Steele struck out a career-high 10 batters. Miley, in just his second outing of the year, tossed seven scoreless frames.

Without Stroman, the Cubs needed a bullpen day to round out this turn in the rotation. Reliever Keegan Thompson opened that game Tuesday and held the Pirates scoreless through five innings.

The Cubs, coming out of a five-game sweep at the hands of the White Sox and Dodgers last homestand, have won their past three series, against the Padres, Diamondbacks and Pirates.

“I thought [Stroman] was throwing the ball as good as anybody before he went down,” Ross said, alluding to the seven shutout innings Stroman tossed at Milwaukee his last time out. “So it’s nice to be able to get him back in the fold.”

Stroman was cleared to rejoin the team and throw a bullpen Tuesday, but the Cubs will have to reinstate him before the IL and make a corresponding move before his start Thursday.

The Cubs did, however, activate reliever David Robertson from the COVID-19 IL on Wednesday, strengthening the back of the bullpen. He threw a scoreless ninth inning.

To make room for Robertson on the active roster, the Cubs optioned right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. to Triple-A on Wednesday. To clear a space on the 40-man roster, the Cubs transferred outfielder Michael Hermosillo from the 10-day IL (left quad strain) to the IL with no injury designation. Hermosillo was on the last road trip with the Cubs.

Robertson described his nine days on the IL as “pretty boring” and his symptoms as “typical.”

“I definitely needed five days off,” he added. “And then after that, it’s just a matter of getting my energy levels back up to join the team.”

He stayed in Chicago and played catch with Stroman when they had the opportunity. Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy left nets for them to throw to.

“I’m glad I’m vaccinated and boosted and all that,” Robertson said. “I think it helped.”

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