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Maddon not masking excitement about 'pen

MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- You've heard about the Cubs' talented rotation. They also may have one of the best bullpens ever, manager Joe Maddon says.

"Outstanding," Maddon said Friday when asked about how good this group of relievers is. "You've got Brandon Morrow's coming-out party, first time as a closer, but he's definitely got the ability to do that. Beyond that, we have previous closers. ... Everybody out there will be considered an even or ahead [in the game] type guy."

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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- You've heard about the Cubs' talented rotation. They also may have one of the best bullpens ever, manager Joe Maddon says.

"Outstanding," Maddon said Friday when asked about how good this group of relievers is. "You've got Brandon Morrow's coming-out party, first time as a closer, but he's definitely got the ability to do that. Beyond that, we have previous closers. ... Everybody out there will be considered an even or ahead [in the game] type guy."

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The Cubs most likely will carry 13 pitchers, although that could change. On Thursday, they released right-hander Justin Grimm and on Friday, Dillon Maples was optioned to Triple-A Iowa. That leaves 18 pitchers still in camp. The list includes the five starters -- Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood -- plus Morrow.

Also set are relievers Steve Cishek, Brian Duensing, Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery, Pedro Strop and Justin Wilson. Strop has not pitched in a Cactus League game yet because of a left calf injury and illness, but he's expected to be ready by Opening Day.

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If the Cubs go with 13 pitchers, that means there's one opening in the bullpen. The candidates include Eddie Butler, Randy Rosario and Shae Simmons, and non-roster invitees Anthony Bass, Justin Hancock and Kyle Ryan. Both Bass and Simmons have been slowed by minor injuries that may affect their chances.

Grimm's departure was a surprise. Maddon said they liked the potential combination of the other relievers and wanted to make the move now to give the right-hander a chance to find another team.

"Looking at the entirety of all the different pitchers, we thought taking him down to the last day would've been inappropriate," Maddon said. "This will give him a chance to catch on with somebody. I've been in his position before with guys you like a lot who have done great service and you're on the fence with. If you wait too long, this guy will have a much more difficult chance getting a job.

"I totally believe he will land somewhere and get a chance to play and pitch a lot this year."

What about the other candidates?

"I like the way [Rosario] has been throwing, and Eddie Butler has been throwing extremely well," Maddon said. "Bass has been hurt but is throwing well. [Hancock] has a lightning bolt for an arm -- this guy is intriguing for me. I didn't know him from anybody. The first pitch he threw, I was like, 'What is that?' ... There's some vey good candidates."

Video: CHC@CWS: Hancock fans Zavala, nails down the save

Hancock struck out three of the four batters he faced on Friday in the Cubs' 6-3 win over the White Sox and picked up a save.

Last season, Cubs relievers posted a 3.80 ERA, fourth best in the National League. Can they do better this year?

"If you look at the 30 teams, the teams with the best bullpens, you have to include the Cubs," Strop said.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Brandon Morrow