Cubs could handle it, but Joe Maddon doubts Jonathan Papelbon will walk into Wrigley clubhouse

Cubs could handle it, but Joe Maddon doubts Jonathan Papelbon will walk into Wrigley clubhouse

Cubs manager Joe Maddon says Jonathan Papelbon’s name hasn’t come up during his conversations with Theo Epstein’s front office.

“The guys have not discussed him with me,” Maddon said before Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field. “I’ve not heard a whole lot of scuttlebutt about the clubhouse yet, either.

“I’m not saying it can’t happen – don’t get me wrong – but for right now, there is nothing happening.”

With reports signaling that Papelbon will make his decision within the next 24 hours, all signs now point to the Cubs not adding a combustible element to their clubhouse. But that would mostly reflect Papelbon being a diminished pitcher who just got released by the Washington Nationals – a first-place team the Cubs could ultimately face in the playoffs – and not the WWE villain caught choking Bryce Harper in the dugout last September.

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The Cubs have Boston Red Sox wings in their front office (Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod) and clubhouse (Jon Lester, John Lackey, David Ross), which made the best team in baseball an attractive destination from Papelbon’s perspective. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Papelbon winds up back at Fenway Park.

“You should be able to absorb a personality that (from the outside) people might view in a different way,” Maddon said. “I’ve always had faith that if you do the right thing in that room, the next person that comes in (gets) the message – ‘This is how we do it here’ – without me having to say it. Or if they’re going against the grain: ‘We don’t do that here’ is also a good way of putting it.

“If you look throughout really good teams in different sports, they’ve been able to take people that come in that maybe weren’t viewed as well outside. (But then) – all of a sudden – they become model citizens. And that’s not because of the manager or the coach. That’s because of the room. That’s because of that group.

“I really have a lot of faith in our players that regardless of who we put in that room, these guys would pretty much have the new person understand: ‘This is how we do things here.’ Or maybe even more importantly: ‘That’s not how we do things here.’ So I’ve never been opposed to that – the perception from outside looking in – because I do have a lot of faith in our guys.”

[RELATED: Why Papelbon's crazy act makes sense for Cubs]

Papelbon no longer inspires the same faith in the ninth inning – or fear factor for opponents – at the age of 35 and near the end of a career that has seen him make six All-Star teams, save 368 games and earn a World Series ring with the 2007 Red Sox.

For now at least, the Cubs believe Pedro Strop will return from knee surgery next month and Hector Rondon won’t go on the disabled list with a triceps injury. The hope is Joe Smith (8.10 ERA) is better than his five-game sample size since getting traded from the Los Angeles Angels. And that Carl Edwards Jr. (27 strikeouts in 19-plus innings) and Justin Grimm (zero runs allowed in his last 14 outings) can keep evolving into trusted setup guys.

“I like our group right now,” Maddon said. “We’ve gone back and forth with different guys this year, and as long as these guys are well, I have a lot of faith in the group in there right now.”

Cubs get more encouraging news on Jon Lester

Cubs get more encouraging news on Jon Lester

The news on Brandon Morrow might not be so positive, but the Cubs did receive very good reports on their injured ace this weekend.

Jon Lester threw a simulated game against a couple of his Cubs teammates Saturday morning at Wrigley Field, tossing 45 pitches in total. In between "innings" of the sim game, Lester was also working out on the side in an effort to ramp up the intensity and simulate more of a game feel to see how his injured left hamstring will respond.

Lester initially went on the injured list two weeks ago after he was removed in the third inning of the Cubs' home opener on April 8, when he hurt his hamstring running the bases.

"[The sim game went] really well," Joe Maddon said Saturday morning. "I thought he looked very good. Pretty amazing where he's at already. ... Did not hold back at all, so it's very encouraging."

Maddon also said he thought Lester's stuff looked good from where he was watching behind the catcher and pointed out that the Cubs ace was "hypercritical of himself," indicating that Lester's focus was on competing and making good pitches instead of worrying about his hamstring or any physical limitations.

The Cubs don't have a next step mapped out for Lester just yet, as they will see how the 35-year-old feels Sunday after the "rigorous" activity Saturday.

There is currently no timetable for his return, but Maddon didn't rule out the possibility that Lester would be able to pitch sometime in the coming week.

The Cubs rotation has looked very good since Lester went down — combining for a 0.96 ERA in the last 7 games before Yu Darvish struggled early in Saturday's tilt with the Diamondbacks.

Tyler Chatwood gets the ball for the Cubs Sunday to close out the series against Arizona and then the team has Jose Quintana and Cole Hamels lined up for the first two games of the series against the Dodgers when they come to town Tuesday night. 

The Cubs won't need a fifth starter in the rotation again until next Saturday, April 27, so that could be a date to circle for a possible Lester return if all continues to go well in the veteran's recovery.

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Cubs shut down Brandon Morrow after setback

Cubs shut down Brandon Morrow after setback

Brandon Morrow will not be ready to join the Cubs bullpen in the near future.

It was expected the closer would miss at least the first month of the season after recovering from November elbow surgery, but now the Cubs say Morrow has suffered a setback and they're shutting down the 34-year-old pitcher.

Morrow threw a bullpen at the Cubs' complex in Arizona earlier in the week and experienced some of the same issues in his arm after.

"The bounceback after the last time out wasn't as good, so we gotta back off him once again and just slow things down," Joe Maddon said Saturday morning. "It's just where he's at. It's not unlike what had been going on earlier.

"It was all trending very well and this last time, just not as good. So we have to pay attention to what he's saying."

Morrow will not pick up a baseball for a little while, though the Cubs didn't specify exactly how long that would be. This obviously pushes Morrow's timeline back significantly and raises serious questions about his status moving forward this season.

He has not appeared in a game since July 15 last year, hitting the shelf with what was classified as a biceps issue initially and then later revealed as a bone bruise. The surgery in November was a debridement procedure similar to what Yu Darvish underwent in September for his own bone bruise.

The Cubs have been very conservative with Morrow throughout his entire recovery, especially given his long injury history. 

Yet even with that conservative approach, nine months away from game action to let the injury recover and the procedure on his elbow to clean things up, Morrow is still experiencing similar issues to what he went through in the second half of last year. As he tried to come back and join the Cubs' pennant race last August and September, Morrow also struggled bouncing back after throwing sessions.

It will be a bit until the Cubs have any sort of definitive timeline on Morrow, but in the meantime, they'll continue piecing together a bullpen that has found its footing lately after a brutal stretch to begin the season. 

The Cubs also have some reinforcements on the way soon in the form of veterans Xavier Cedeno and Tony Barnette, who both signed free-agent deals with the team over the winter. Cedeno, a 32-year-old lefty, is throwing another rehab game in Double-A Tennessee Saturday while Barnette — a 35-year-old righty — is expected to make his first rehab appearance with Triple-A Iowa Sunday.

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