Strop set to start season as Chicago Cubs closer

The Chicago Cubs' closer situation appears to have settled down, at least for now.

Backup closer Pedro Strop recently tweaked his hamstring, but that seems to be healing, and Strop looks to be ready for Opening Day on Thursday at Texas.

Strop, the Cubs' eighth-inning setup man, again is thrust into the role of closer because Brandon Morrow is recovering from an elbow cleanup, performed early in the off-season.

Morrow, whom the Cubs signed to a two-year deal before last season, did not pitch after July 15 because of right-biceps inflammation. He threw off a mound in Mesa, Arizona, last week and reported good progress. Still, he won't be ready to be placed on the active roster until sometime in May.

Until then, it's back to Strop, even though manager Joe Maddon doesn't like to make declarations about who the closer is.

"I won't declare anybody the closer," Maddon told reporters. "I didn't even declare Stropie the closer. Once Brandon's out, we've got to figure it out. Once Morrow comes back, he will be the closer.

"But until we get to that point, I like the idea of using guys in the higher-leverage moment that suits their abilities better. I don't want to run away from a moment, just because I classified somebody as the ninth-inning pitcher."

Morrow appeared in 35 games last year and performed well, with 22 saves in 24 chances with an ERA of 1.47 and a WHIP of 1.08.

Strop is one of the most popular players on the Cubs, with his teammates, the coaching staff and the media. He has been a Cub since the middle of the 2013 season when he came over from Baltimore in the deal that brought former ace Jake Arrieta to the Cubs.

Since then, Strop has made 361 relief appearances, placing him fourth on the team's all-time list.

Strop was pressed into service as closer after Morrow went down last July. For the season, Strop had 13 saves, a record of 6-1 with a 2.26 ERA and a WHIP of 0.99. He, too, was felled by injury, when he injured his left hamstring running the bases during a Sept. 13 game at Washington. Strop tweaked the right hamstring this spring.

While there was talk the Cubs would pursue free-agent closer Craig Kimbrel after Strop got hurt this spring, that seems unlikely, especially with Strop seeming to be on track to open the season healthy.

If Strop needs a break early in the season, the Cubs can turn to Steve Cishek or Brandon Kintzler to close games. Hard-throwing Carl Edwards Jr. always has been an intriguing possibility as the closer.

"Probably over half of the guys we'll have in Chicago have held closer's roles at different points," Morrow told reporters. "So, it's not going to be something where we're going into the ninth inning and it's going to be overwhelming. It's just a little different in the ninth, but it's not going to affect those guys."

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