CHICAGO -- The Cubs want to be careful with Cole Hamels in his return from a left oblique strain, but the team is also placing a lot of value in the veteran's input throughout this process. If the left-hander indicates that he is ready for the next step, Chicago's medical and training staff is not going to stand in his way.
"If he feels good," Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said, "we don't want to slow play Cole Hamels. He's a guy we want in the rotation."
Hamels -- who has been on the 10-day injured list since June 29 -- took another step forward on Wednesday morning, when he completed a 24-pitch bullpen session at Wrigley Field ahead of the Cubs' game against the Reds. The plan now calls for at least a two-day period of recovery and treatment, meaning Hamels will throw off a mound again on Saturday at the earliest.
Hottovy noted that a group of upcoming off-days (Thursday, July 25 and July 29) give the Cubs some flexibility for mapping out the rotation and Hamels' return. Barring any setbacks, the left-hander could be cleared for a simulated game or a Minor League rehab assignment following his next bullpen session. Given the way the schedule works out, a fifth starter would be needed on Aug. 3 against the Brewers, providing a possible target date for Hamels' activation.
"We're going to discuss that internally -- things we want to do," Hottovy said. "But, we have the option, the ability, to go four-man for an extended period of time with those off-days."
Hottovy estimated that Hamels threw at 90-percent effort in Wednesday's mound workout, adding that the 35-year-old lefty would build up to a session consisting of around 30-35 pitches next time out.
"He's a pro. So, when he's out there, he's got a good intensity," said the pitching coach. "I don't think he treated it as, 'OK, let's see how we feel.' It was much more, 'Let's go throw a normal bullpen.' That's kind of how he treated it. It was good."
Mills remains in rotation
The Cubs will need a fifth starter for Tuesday's game in San Francisco and there is a chance that right-hander Alec Mills gets the call for that outing.
Mills was summoned from Triple-A Iowa and started in place of Hamels on Tuesday night, and the righty remained with the Cubs on Wednesday. Mills logged a quality start against the Reds, allowing three runs (all in the first inning) over six innings. He struck out six and walked one in the 81-pitch no-decision.
"We're looking possibly to get him out there again," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Listen, I have a lot of confidence. You've heard me about this fellow before. He's definitely a big league-caliber pitcher. I don't think he's a four-A guy. He's more than that. He just needs an opportunity."
• A few hours before Wednesday's game against the Reds, infielder Robel Garcia was taking ground balls at third base at Wrigley Field. Maddon also noted that he wants Garcia -- primarily a second baseman -- to get some work in the outfield. The manager is intrigued by Garcia's versatility and has been impressed with his offensive adjustments since being promoted from Triple-A earlier this month.
"When you were a young player like that when there was no analytics, video, and all this other stuff," Maddon said, "it took really a trip through the league once before people were really able to discern your weaknesses. From the very first moment he came here, in the very first game that he played, you could see that the other team had already scouted things that would've normally taken weeks, maybe months, to figure out. In return, he's already made some nice adjustments."
• In the ninth inning of Tuesday's 4-3 win, Albert Almora Jr. struck out and began walking back to the Cubs' dugout. The problem was that the baseball got away from Reds catcher Kyle Farmer. Almora realized his mistake too late and Farmer had ample time to throw to first base to record a critical out. Maddon said he had a pair of coaches discuss the gaffe with Almora after the game.
"I'm not going to make any assumptions," Maddon said. "I haven't talked to Albert yet about it and I haven't talked to the coaches yet about it, but that was really annoying at the moment, there's no question, to everybody. You really need to be self-aware in that moment and try to run. Obviously, I can't defend that part of it. But again, he may not have seen anything. That's definitely possible."
• Right-hander Carl Edwards Jr. (10-day IL, left thoracic strain) struck out three, gave up two hits and walked one in a scoreless inning for Triple-A Iowa on Tuesday in his latest rehab effort. Hottovy said Edwards continues to make progress, but noted that the reliever is still inconsistent in how he feels the day after appearances.
"He's feeling better every single time out," Hottovy said. "The fastball's got some carry and some cut to it. He's feeling good. I think the one thing with him has just been the rebound."