SAN DIEGO -- Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel is unlikely to return Thursday, the first day he’s eligible to come off the 10-day injured list.
“It’s hard to imagine that he will be. I can’t deny that,” manager Joe Maddon said Tuesday. “We’ve got to take this slowly. We’ve got to make sure he’s well.”
Kimbrel hasn’t pitched since Sept. 1, when the Brewers touched him for three runs in two-thirds of an inning. He felt discomfort in that game and was placed on the injured list with right elbow inflammation on Thursday, retroactive to Sept. 2.
Kimbrel rested the elbow for several days before he resumed throwing Sunday by playing catch on flat ground. He went to the Petco Park bullpen Tuesday afternoon, but he only made light-intensity tosses.
Maddon wants to see Kimbrel throw with max effort before he returns to game action.
“He’s going to have to get out there and let her fly, for sure,” Maddon said. “It’s not just about playing catch or even going out there and making 10 throws off the mound. It’s got to be something legitimate. I wouldn’t put him in a game unless he felt he’s 100 percent well.”
Maddon said an ideal schedule would see Kimbrel throw Thursday before the Cubs wrap their Southern California road trip, which could allow the right-hander to return during the next homestand, possibly over the weekend vs. the Pirates.
Kimbrel, 31, has a 5.68 ERA and 13 saves in 21 games this season, his first with the Cubs. He, of course, got a belated start after going unsigned as a free agent in the offseason. The Cubs signed him June 7 to a three-year, $43 million deal.
Looking ahead with Hoerner, Russell
After Nico Hoerner’s three-hit, four-RBI debut in Monday's 10-2 win, Cubs fans might be thinking he’s the next Ernie Banks, but Hoerner’s hold on shortstop could wind up being only a few days. It all depends on how quickly Addison Russell recovers from a concussion after being hit by a pitch on Sunday.
“He’s still under the [concussion] protocol,” Maddon said. “It’s kind of a day-by-day issue.”
Maddon already is planning to find ways to use Hoerner if the 22-year-old cedes shortstop back to Russell. (Starting shortstop Javier Baez is out through at least this month with a left thumb fracture.) Besides shortstop, Hoerner has played second base and center field in the Minors.
Maddon, a trendsetter in moving players around many positions, expects to call on Hoerner’s versatility down the stretch.
“That’s something we talked about before he even got here,” Maddon said. “He has done that. He’s played [short], he’s played second and he’s played in the outfield. Once Addy’s back, that gives us even more versatility.”
• Kris Bryant returned to the Cubs’ starting lineup after sitting out two games and getting a cortisone shot Sunday in his aching right knee.
• Willson Contreras also was in the lineup. He has had his starts spread out as he recuperates from a right hamstring strain.