'Pen gets boost as Winkler, Workman return

Strop, Steele optioned to alternate training site

April 17th, 2021

CHICAGO -- The Cubs' bullpen returned closer to its Opening Day alignment on Saturday, when right-handers Dan Winkler and Brandon Workman were both reinstated from the injured list.

While Winkler and Workman were away for the past five days -- placed on MLB's COVID-19 related IL out of caution -- the Cubs did get to look at a few other arms. That included veteran and , who were both sent back to the alternate training site in South Bend, Ind., on Saturday.

"I was impressed with both those guys as they came up here," Cubs manager David Ross said prior to Saturday's game against the Braves. "They stayed sharp since Spring Training."

Ross knows what he has in the 35-year-old Strop, who has a 2.88 ERA in 413 career games with the Cubs, including 38 with his current manager behind the plate as his former catcher. This was a chance for Chicago to see how Strop looked against MLB hitters following an injury-marred 2020 season.

"He continues to be a guy I trust," said Ross, who added that Strop did not look his "sharpest" in Friday's inning. "He's somebody who handles the moment. Even when he doesn't have his good stuff, he's a guy that can get outs."

In contrast to Strop's wealth of experience, the 25-year-old Steele was getting his first taste of the big leagues.

In three outings, the lefty struck out four and walked one in 3 1/3 innings. He flashed a 93.9 mph four-seamer, which generated a 60 percent whiff rate, per Statcast, along with a sharp slider developed last year.

"We've thrown him into the fire here right away," Ross said. "In some real intense moments, he's had to come in and get his feet under him right away as a big leaguer. And I thought he did a pretty good job with that."

Worth noting
• Ross said right-hander Kyle Hendricks remains on target to start Sunday night's game against the Braves. Hendricks had his planned start skipped earlier this week in Milwaukee when the pitcher reported not feeling well.

"Kyle feels better," Ross said. "Unless something changes, Kyle will pitch [Sunday] night. He's feeling much better and is ready to go."

• Prior to Friday's game, Cubs reliever Ryan Tepera acknowledged that he chose to send "a message" with his pitch behind Brandon Woodruff's legs on Tuesday. Tepera, who is currently appealing a three-game suspension, said he "had had enough" with Cubs batters being hit by the pitch.

"I think that baseball has a way of policing itself," Ross said. "These guys will figure out when they've had enough. Each side would. I'm sure if we hit Christian Yelich as much as they've hit Willson Contreras, that their guys would probably do the same thing."

• Originally, the Cubs planned to activate Winkler and Workman on Sunday, but Chicago needed relief reinforcements Saturday. Both righties threw bullpen sessions Friday with no issues.

"You try to take last year and what you went through and take it for what it was, but when you have some things carry into this year, you still feel like you're up against this kind of clock. We're not." -- Ross, on keeping the 162-game season length in mind amid the Cubs' early offensive struggles