ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — After a few pitches in the bullpen Tuesday, it was Miller Time for Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta.
Arrieta, who hasn’t pitched since straining his right hamstring Sept. 4, threw 25 pitches before the game against the Rays and, assuming no issues Wednesday morning, is expected to return to the rotation Thursday night in Milwaukee.
‘‘The good thing is the arm strength has remained there,’’ said Arrieta, who was one of the hottest pitchers in baseball when he got hurt. ‘‘And I actually feel better for having a little time off, arm-strength-wise. We’ll see how I feel in the morning, but I anticipate feeling just fine and being ready to go Thursday.’’
The return date lines up Arrieta for a start next Tuesday against the Cardinals in St. Louis and another in the regular-season finale Oct. 1 against the Reds at home.
That schedule sets the stage for potential playoff-rotation intrigue, with Game 1 of the National League Division Series scheduled five days after Arrieta’s start Oct. 1. The Cubs’ other Game 1 candidate, Jon Lester, starts Sept. 30, which puts the left-hander in line for Game 1 with an extra day of rest.
‘‘I’m not anywhere near that [in the decision-making process],’’ manager Joe Maddon said. ‘‘First of all, he’s got to be well when he pitches.’’
Arrieta, who expects to be on a limit of 75 to 80 pitches Thursday, was 7-2 with a 1.69 ERA in July and August and was the National League Pitcher of the Month in August.
Lester has struggled early in all three starts he has made since a two-week stretch on the disabled list for a lat injury, but he has finished strong in each of them.
Team president Theo Epstein, who watched Arrieta’s bullpen session and met on the field with him afterward, called it ‘‘inappropriate’’ to talk about the potential order of the playoff rotation.
‘‘We’ve got a lot of work to do to get there,’’ said Epstein, whose team leads the Brewers by 3½ games in the NL Central with 12 regular-season games left.
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