Ross says Stroman ahead of schedule, would love to have him down stretch

Marcus Stroman's rehab took a positive step Thursday as the Cubs' pitcher threw a 29-pitch live batting practice session. There were no specifics on how Stroman felt afterward, the Cubs saying they'll offer an update Friday.

Stroman, who hasn't pitched since July 31, is attempting to come back from a fractured rib cartilage. "He's ahead of schedule from (where) I thought he would be," said manager David Ross. "So that's good news. But it only takes one pitch to set it back. Being injured is (tough). ...

"Little things can pop up and make you sore again or re-aggravate the injury. ... It's a lot of wait-and-see."

Assuming no setback, the Cubs could have Stroman throw another live batting practice or even send him on a rehab assignment. If Stroman makes it back to the big leagues, it figures to be in the final week of the season or even in the playoffs.

It could create a conundrum, but Ross isn't about to deny a healthy Stroman (10-8, 3.85 ERA in 23 starts) a chance to compete.

"I mean I want as many good players as we can get," Ross said. "You don't take some of the best athletes in the league and leave 'em by the wayside just because they haven't been (healthy).

"You try to find where's the best fit (and) do we have holes? What that role for him is still to be defined as he continues to get healthy - hopefully. And we'll figure that out then."

Put to the test:

The Cubs will face two of MLB's best pitchers during a four-game series vs. the D'backs when Zac Gallen (14-7, 3.48 ERA) starts Friday and Merrill Kelly (11-6, 3.22) starts Saturday.

These are huge games for Arizona, which is in a near dead heat with Miami and Cincinnati for the final wild-card spot. Of course, they are huge for the Cubs as well - ones that could continue to build confidence as the season winds down.

Manager David Ross said the 2013 Red Sox - another under-the-radar squad not expected to do much - went through similar circumstances en route to a World Series title.

"We didn't get a lot of hype because there weren't a whole lot of names besides (David) Ortiz and (Dustin) Pedroia," said Ross, who played in four of the six World Series games. "But you got to the playoffs and there was nothing we hadn't faced. Every team brings their "A" game when you're playing in the big markets. Every team is giving you their best. That prepares you for postseason."

Around the horn:

Seiya Suzuki extended his hitting streak to eight games with a triple in the fifth inning against Arizona on Thursday. Suzuki is 14-for-33 (.424) during the streak, which is two shy of a career high. Suzuki also has an extra-base hit in five straight games. … Nico Hoerner (2-for-4) has reached base safely in 30 of his last 33 games. … The Cubs haven't lost by more than 4 runs in 31 games, dating to an 8-0 loss to Atlanta on August 4. … Going into Thursday, Cody Bellinger was fifth in batting average (.321), seventh in OPS (.920) and eighth in slugging percentage (.555). Bellinger's 64 RBIs since July 1 also ranked first, with the Astros' Kyle Tucker a distant second at 51. … Michael Fulmer (forearm strain) threw off the mound Wednesday and played catch Thursday. … Arizona's bullpen has allowed 1 run and 4 hits in the last three contests (14⅔ IP).

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