Cubs rotation gets promising news from Marcus Stroman, Drew Smyly’s bullpens

PITTSBURGH — A pair of bullpen sessions this week provided promising feedback for the Cubs’ rotation.

Cubs lefty Drew Smyly (right oblique strain) and right-hander Marcus Stroman (right shoulder inflammation) each threw about 30 pitches in bullpens on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.

“They both went really well,” Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy told the Sun-Times. “I think they’re both progressing the way we expected them to.”

The Cubs don’t yet have a solid timeline for either pitcher to return from the 15-day injured list. But Smyly told the Sun-Times last week that he hoped to be ready before the All-Star break.

Hottovy didn’t dismiss the idea but added: “What ‘ready’ means in terms of volume is a completely different thing.”

Volume became a bigger deal for starters when the 13-pitcher roster limit went into effect this week.

“So, if we bring them back shorter than they should be, we could get in trouble,” Hottovy said. “Now, we can use off days, we might be able to piggyback guys and do some things to be creative. But getting to volume and making sure they’re ready to go is going to be important.”

It could make sense for the Cubs to give Smyly and Stroman the All-Star break next month to finish ramping up.

In addition to Smyly’s oblique injury, Hottovy said, the lefty had been dealing with a minor finger issue. Between the finicky nature of oblique injuries and the fact that Smyly had multiple ailments, the Cubs were more concerned with Smyly’s health as he progressed in his throwing program. But he had no issues in his bullpen, Hottovy said, and threw all of his pitches.

So now Smyly, who landed on the IL late last month, and Stroman, who’s been on the IL for a couple weeks, are lined up on similar routines. Both are tentatively scheduled to throw another bullpen before live batting practice midweek next week.

Though nothing is settled, they’ll likely both go on rehab assignments before returning from the IL.

Veteran lefty Wade Miley (left shoulder strain) is on a slower track back and has yet to start throwing again. He’s scheduled to be reevaluated this week before the Cubs determine next steps.

Morel out of the lineup

Cubs outfielder Christopher Morel wasn’t in the starting lineup Wednesday, for the first time in a month and just the second time since his first major-league start on May 18.

The utility man, who has primarily played center field for the Cubs, carried a .327 on-base percentage into Wednesday. But his bat has cooled off since his franchise-record 22-game on base streak to start a career. Morel has eight hits in his past 45 at-bats.

“That’s just the course of the season,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “He started out so hot, and you knew it was going to level off at some point. … This is just your typical guy getting into the big leagues, having some success and especially at the top [of the lineup, he’s on the radar. The more success you have, the more they go over you in their meetings and talk about you and try to find your holes.”

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