Pitcher Scott Baker took the next step Thursday in his long recovery from Tommy John surgery.
Baker threw from the Wrigley Field bullpen mound, and the Cubs say he'll start for the Kane County Cougars Sunday at West Michigan as he begins a minor-league rehab assignment.
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The 31-year-old right-hander underwent elbow surgery in April 2012 while a member of the Minnesota Twins. He made his only spring-training appearance for the Cubs on March 17, but he suffered a setback.
"Much better," he said. "Of course, it's been a long, long process. Initially, when you have a setback, it's never fun, but you try to make the most of it. Obviously, you're trying to get healthy all the time. You're trying to find things that make yourself better and continue to work on the things you have control over as far as mechanics ... It's been long. It's been tough."
Baker likely will need 4 rehab starts over 30 days. He could join the rotation after that, especially if the Cubs trade any starting pitchers.
The Cubs signed Baker to a one-year, $5.5 million deal last November. On Wednesday, general manager Jed Hoyer said the Cubs have talked about bringing Baker back.
"I think there's no secret that there's a lot of great things going on here," Baker said. "I want to say that I have a lot of great years left pitching, but at the same time, every year is an opportunity to win, and I think you go through different phases in your career. I think I'm at that point now that I've been hurt and things have kind of been taken away from me."
Bowden is back:
The Cubs optioned lefty Brooks Raley to Class AAA Iowa Thursday and selected right-handed reliever Michael Bowden from Iowa.
A resident of Oswego, Bowden opened the season in the Cubs bullpen before being designated for assignment May 21. One day later, reliever Shawn Camp went on the disabled list with a lingering toe injury. If Camp had said something earlier, it might not have cost Bowden his job.
"It's part of the game," Bowden said. "A move had to be made. Unfortunately, it was me. I just tried to go down there and get back here as soon as possible."
At Iowa, Bowden was 0-0 with 2 saves, a 2.41 ERA and a WHIP of 0.91.
"I was throwing the ball a lot better," he said. "I think my arm was a little tired earlier in the year. I think I finally got where I need to be. I'm just executing my pitches a lot better, and my mechanics are allowing me to throw the ball with a little more conviction."