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Strop, Darvish on track, in good spirits

@MLBastian
March 22, 2019

MESA, Ariz. -- A smiling Pedro Strop jogged away from the bullpen mounds after his throwing session on Friday morning with no issues. Yu Darvish cracked jokes about the methods he may or may not have used to expedite the healing process for the blister on his throwing hand. All

MESA, Ariz. -- A smiling Pedro Strop jogged away from the bullpen mounds after his throwing session on Friday morning with no issues. Yu Darvish cracked jokes about the methods he may or may not have used to expedite the healing process for the blister on his throwing hand.

All in all, it was a positive day of work for the pair of critical Cubs pitchers.

"Just keep moving in the right direction," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said before Friday's 7-3 win over the Rangers.

As things stand right now, Strop appears to be on target to be in the Opening Day bullpen despite a right hamstring issue that threw a wrinkle into his spring program. The right-hander tested the leg in a normal bullpen session on Friday while Darvish threw on a neighboring hill. There was a brief break to fix a bandage on Darvish's right ring finger, but he got through the workout pain-free.

The next step for Strop is returning to game action either Monday or Tuesday against the Red Sox. That will mark the reliever's first appearance since March 9, but Maddon feels that it will be plenty to declare Strop ready for the season, if there are no setbacks.

"One is fine," Maddon said. "He's not been sitting on the sideline not throwing the baseball because his leg hurts. He's been throwing the whole time. And that's the difference-maker. If you keep the arm moving, then you could absorb just maybe one or two -- maybe two outings -- and feel good. Relief pitchers are different, especially veteran relief pitchers. They know what they're doing."

Darvish's next test will come Sunday, when he gets a start in a controlled Minor League setting at the Cubs' complex rather than pitching against the Padres in Peoria, Ariz. Left-hander Mike Montgomery will get the nod against San Diego that afternoon in Darvish's place.

Maddon does not expect the blister issue -- one that flared during Darvish's start against the Mariners on Tuesday -- to impact the pitcher's availability for the start of the season.

"I think he's going to be fine," the manager said.

Darvish was asked if he was surprised by how fast the sore healed.

"Yeah. I put pee on it. That's why," joked Darvish, eliciting laugher from reporters. "No, no, no, no."

Bullpen decisions looming
If Strop is ready for Opening Day, Chicago's eight-man bullpen would seem to be set with Brad Brach, Tyler Chatwood, Steve Cishek, Brian Duensing, Carl Edwards Jr., Brandon Kintzler and Montgomery rounding out the relief corps. Maddon said that might not necessarily be the case.

"We're talking about that. There's still, honestly, there's a couple little tweaks that are possible," Maddon said. "So, that's not been nailed down yet. We're still discussing some stuff. Some guys have made some really good impressions here and, of course, we've got guys coming off of injury, too, that you have to be mindful of moving forward. So, there's little things going on, but I promise you, it's not nailed down yet."

Beyond the group of pitchers currently dealing with health issues, the Cubs have Dillon Maples, Randy Rosario, Kyle Ryan, Junichi Tazawa and Allen Webster still in camp. Tazawa and Webster are non-roster invitees.

Injury updates
• Cishek is scheduled to pitch in Saturday's game against the Rockies. The sidearmer has not made a Cactus League appearance since Sunday due to illness.

• Utility man Daniel Descalso (left shoulder) was scheduled to get at-bats in a Minor League game either Friday or Saturday. The hope is that he will be game-ready for early next week and fine for Opening Day.

• Right-hander Tony Barnette (right shoulder) completed a 25-pitch bullpen session consisting of only fastballs on Thursday. He will open the season on the injured list.

• Righty Alec Mills, who has not pitched since March 4 due to a back issue, is scheduled to appear in Saturday's game against Colorado.

• The Cubs released right-hander Christian Bergman on Friday. The pitcher was brought to camp as a non-roster invitee this spring.

Up next
Opening Day starter Jon Lester's final tuneup for the season is scheduled for Saturday when the Rockies host the Cubs in an 8:40 p.m. CT Cactus League clash at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Ariz. Colorado is planning on sending lefty Kyle Freeland to the mound opposite Chicago's veteran rotation leader.

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.