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Cubs notes: Potential bench lefty battle and Strop injury setback

Could Tommy La Stella’s return to the Cubs be even more temporary than he thinks?

The Cubs certainly believe he’s a key left-handed bat off the bench as they eye the postseason; it’s hard to imagine tolerating the long boycott of his minor-league assignment and controversy that followed otherwise.

But, as manager Joe Maddon said Thursday, “You only have a finite number [of spots] in a playoff situation.”

And just-activated outfielder Chris Coghlan – who doubled home a run in his first at-bat from the disabled list Thursday – is another potentially significant lefty bat off the bench.

Chris Coghlan doubled home a run with two out in the first inning Thursday in his return from the DL.

“And you want to take as much of a look as you possibly can and just try to make your best guess at that time,” Maddon said.

Both were on the Cubs’ playoff roster in 2015. But the Cubs have not committed to a roster structure that may be influenced by projected matchups as well as bullpen and defensive needs.

“Tommy was doing extremely well before we had sent him out,” Maddon said. “Chris came back to us [in a trade], struggled a little bit, and now I’m hearing he’s really recaptured what he looked like last year.”

And if it turns out there’s only room for one of those lefty bats by the Cubs’ Oct. 7 playoff opener?

“Go for it. Both of them go for it,” Maddon said of the final month of the season. “We’ll see what [they do], to make it a very difficult decision.”

Lefty hitting catcher Miguel Montero, who has stirred at and behind the plate recently after season-long struggles, could be in that decision mix, too, Maddon said – though he seems more secure as one of three catchers, including one of only two with more than three months big-league experience.

“You just really pay attention this month and see how it plays out,” Maddon said, “and we’ll attempt to make our best choice.”

 Strop injury setback

Setup reliever Pedro Strop, who was ahead of schedule to return from Aug. 12 knee surgery, strained his left groin doing rehab work on Wednesday and has been shut down again.

Strop threw a bullpen Monday and appeared to be in line for a return from the DL next week until an MRI revealed the strain. The club anticipates his return will be backed up by at least two more weeks.

Lackey, Rondon on tap

Veteran starter John Lackey (shoulder) and setup ace Hector Rondon (triceps) both threw bullpen sessions Thursday and, barring setback, could be back in action within the next few days.

“I felt fine. I feel like I can pitch in a game,” said Lackey, who is penciled in to start Sunday against the Giants, pending an evaluation Friday morning.

Rondon next joins Class AAA Iowa for a quick rehab assignment, scheduled to pitch Saturday and, likely, in Iowa’s season finale Monday before a possible return to the Cub bullpen for the end of next week’s series in Milwaukee.

September additions

As rosters expanded Thursday for the final month of the season, the Cubs activated right-handed reliever Joe Smith (hamstring) and outfielder Chris Coghlan (ribs) from the DL.

Coghlan started in left field and doubled home a run in his first at-bat.

They also selected right-hander Jake Buchanan from AAA Iowa, filling their final 40-man roster spot with the AAA starter who becomes a long man in the pen.