Rotation puzzle: Cubs mapping out next steps for Marcus Stroman, Drew Smyly

MILWAUKEE – Cubs right-hander Marcus Stroman rejoined the team in Milwaukee after one rehab start, but Cubs manager David Ross wouldn’t say if Stroman (right shoulder inflammation) would pitch another before returning from the 10-day injured list.

The same went for Drew Smyly (right oblique strain).

“We haven’t gotten a full plan yet,” Ross said Tuesday, adding that he’d talk with both of them and map out their next steps.

Stroman threw 2 2/3 innings for Triple-A Iowa on Sunday, and Smyly threw four innings for Single-A South Bend on Monday. They’ve been on a similar throwing schedule for the last couple of weeks, and that’s expected to continue through their returns.

Before penciling Stroman and Smyly into the rotation, whether that comes during this turn or later, the Cubs have a hole to fill.

Cubs right-hander Alec Mills left seven pitches into his last start with a low back strain, landing on the 10-day IL on Sunday. His next start would have been Thursday, opening a four-game series against the Dodgers.

The Cubs have options. When Mills left the game Saturday, Mark Leiter Jr. replaced him and threw 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball to earn the win in the Cubs’ 3-1 victory against the Red Sox. Leiter could fill in again, if he isn’t needed for length out of the bullpen before Thursday.

Neither Stroman nor Smyly is likely to return Thursday, four and three days out from their respective rehab outings. So, when would it make sense to slot them in?

Between an off day next Monday and the All-Star break the week after, the Cubs have plenty of flexibility to skip starts and shift around the rotation. Plus, lefty Justin Steele, who announced this spring that he and his fiancee are expecting the birth of their first child in July, is expected to go on paternity leave sometime this month.

Hendricks exits after three innings

Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks left the game after throwing 69 pitches in three innings. His sinker velocity averaged 85.7 mph Tuesday, down from his 86.5 mph season average. It improved in the third inning but hit a low of 83.8 mph in the first inning.

Hendricks allowed two runs, both in the first inning.

Contreras day-to-day

Cubs catcher Willson Contreras (left hamstring tightness) was out of the lineup against the Brewers on Tuesday, after leaving the Cubs’ 5-2 loss Monday before the bottom half of the 10th inning. Ross described Contreras as “day-to-day” and did not rule out Contreras being available off the bench Tuesday.

“Very similar to what he felt last time,” Ross said. “Very precautious, was smart on his behalf [to pull himself].”

Last time, in late May, Contreras missed three games with hamstring tightness.

In other injury news …

Cubs reliever Daniel Norris (sprained left index finger) threw a 22-pitch live batting practice session on Tuesday, according to the team. Second baseman Nick Madrigal (left groin strain) and first baseman Frank Schwindel (low back strain) stood in against him.

Madrigal also went through a full slate of baseball activities, and Schwindel ran the bases.

Schwindel is scheduled to take ground balls on Wednesday. The Cubs have yet to announce next steps for Norris and Madrigal, but they’ll likely head out on rehab assignments in the coming days.

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