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Cubs 4, Royals 1: Big day for core relievers in Cactus League win

MESA, Ariz. — The three key bullpen veterans the Cubs expect to lean on hardest during the first month without closer Brandon Morrow all pitched well Wednesday in a 4-1 Cactus League victory over the Kansas City Royals at Sloan Park.

That included Pedro Strop, who is expected to be the de facto fill-in closer for Morrow, and newcomer Brad Brach in their spring debuts.

Strop faced four batters, giving up an excuse-me-swing, opposite-field single before a steal and throwing error put the runner on third. He then got a grounder and strikeout as the runner held. But a walk to Frank Schwindel put him at his first-game limit, and a run scored after he left.

Brach in his Cubs debut gave up a hit and struck out a batter in the sixth. In between workhorse Steve Cishek pitched a 1-2-3 fifth.

Steve Cishek, shown pitching in his first outing of the spring, added a 1-2-3 inning in his second outing Wednesday.

“Health is the main priority right now,” manager Joe Maddon said, “and just let them play.” Mission accomplished.

A1 Q rating

Presumptive fifth starter Jose Quintana faced only one over the minimum in three innings of work, allowing a leadoff walk in the second and a leadoff single in the third (Billy Hamilton following the single by grounding into a 5-4-3 double play).

More important, he said the changeup he’s working on this spring was an effective weapon in all counts – including the strikeout pitch on Bubba Starling with a runner on in the second.

Victor-ious

Backup catcher Victor Caratini walked to load the bases in the fourth, just ahead of Daniel Descalso getting hit by a pitch for an RBI.

Caratini added a solo homer to left-center in the sixth.

Simulation day

Yu Darvish will stay behind in Mesa to make his next scheduled start in an afternoon simulated game Friday rather than travel across the Phoenix valley to start the night game against the Mariners.

Mike Montgomery also will pitch in the simulated game at home. It’s a common practice for veteran pitchers.

Right-handed prospect Duncan Robinson will make the Seattle start.

On deck: Rockies at Cubs, Mesa, Arizona, 2:05 p.m. Thursday, cubs.com radio, Antonio Senzatela vs. Jon Lester.