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Why Cubs’ Pedro Strop is anomaly among relievers

Pedro Strop prepares to throw a pitch during a bullpen session at the Under Armour Performance Center, the Spring Training home of the Chicago Cubs, in Mesa, AZ. | John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times

MESA, Ariz. – It’s not supposed to be like this. Even Pedro Strop knows that.

“That’s why it looked impressive to me when Theo [Epstein] brought my attention to it,” the Cubs reliever said. “I looked around and said, `Man, that’s amazing because that’s not an easy job. Relievers are always up and down.’ “

Strop is the anomaly among relievers – the most volatile position area almost by definition in the majors.

He says he never thought about it before team president Theo Epstein showed him the numbers after last season and reminded him again as spring training started.

But since joining the Cubs in a midseason trade in 2013, Strop might be the most consistent relief pitcher in the big leagues.

His ERAs each of those years: 2.83, 2.21, 2.91, 2.85, 2.83, 2.26.

“He’s one guy that doesn’t get near the due that he is due,” manager Joe Maddon said. “This is one of the most consistent relief pitchers in baseball – [ital] baseball [end ital] – over the last four or five years.”

It’s why the Cubs didn’t hesitate to pick up his $6.25 million option for 2019. It’s one of the biggest reasons why they have faith in a bullpen that didn’t get as much off-season help as they’d hoped to provide.

“He’s such a big part of the heartbeat of this team,” Epstein said the day after Strop came back early from a hamstring injury to pitch in pain during the Cubs’ 13-inning wild-card loss to the Rockies – striking out two in a scoreless ninth.

“I hope he can be part of this organization when he’s done playing because that’s how impactful he is, to the other relievers and to the team as a whole,” Epstein said. “Just a great disposition and great heart on that kid. And a great pitcher.”

Strop, who turns 34 in June, is far from done playing.

He said Wednesday he feels great physically again and made his spring debut against the Royals with a four-batter outing that included a little of everything: slap, opposite-field single, strikeout and walk.

He expects to have six or seven more spring tuneups before opening the season as the presumptive ninth-inning fill-in for Brandon Morrow the first month of the season while Morrow finishes his rehab from elbow surgery.

“I know I can help in that role,” said Strop, who was impressive in that role the second half of last year until suffering the hamstring injury when left in to hit for himself with two weeks left in the season.

“But C.J. [Edwards] has been looking really spectacular in spring training,” he added. “And we’ve got [Brad] Brach, [Steve] Cishek … and we’ve got [Brandon] Kintzler, too, that has done it. We feel really good about it in that situation, and I’m pretty sure that Morris not going to take that long to get back. I feel good about our bullpen.”

Whever they want him to pitch is fine, he said.

“Stropy is egoless when it comes to those moments,” Maddon said.

Egoless and relentless. And as reliable as it gets in the game these days wherever you use him for the season.

“It’s something you don’t even think about,” Strop said of the numbers in recent years. “If you take pitch by pitch, hitter by hitter, day by day and just keep thinking, `I’ve got the opportunity to win in any circumstances I pitch,’ then I guess this is the result.

“That feels good, I have to be honest.”