Refilling Cubs pen: Closer Craig Kimbrel to be activated from IL Sunday, Steve Cishek also close

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PITTSBURGH – The Cubs aren’t expected to make the announcement until Sunday, but closer Craig Kimbrel was on the travel roster for the team’s charter to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and is expected to be activated from the injured list in time for Sunday night’s Little League Classic.

He has missed the last 13 games because of a right knee issue, including the Cubs’ fifth and sixth losses of the season when leading entering the ninth. He threw two bullpen sessions in the last five days.

“He’s very confident that he’s fine,” manager Joe Maddon said.

For a team whose bullpen has taken it on a roller-coaster right this season, Kimbrel’s return can’t come fast enough.

Five different pitchers have finished the ninth in save situations since his injury, going 3-for-5.

His return comes two days after setup man Brandon Kintzler returned from a pectoral injury – then suffered with command in Friday’s blown ninth inning.

That came one day after the Cubs blew a 5-0 lead in the final two innings at Philadelphia.

On Sunday, they closed out a 2-0 victory with two-plus innings from Tyler Chatwood – who pitched out of a two-on, nobody-out jam in the seventh after an eight-day layoff – and a first career save from rookie Rowan Wick.

“His stuff is so explosive, especially in the zone,” starter Jon Lester (10-8) said of Chatwood. “I think he’s kind of found something. Today was huge.

“And then Rowan coming in and getting his first save. That was pretty cool.”

Bullpen workhorse Steve Cishek (hip) also looks like he’ll be ready to return from the IL on Tuesday when eligible after throwing another bullpen session on Saturday.

“My last two bullpens have gone,” said Cishek, who said he feels back to normal physically. “And I don’t feel like I’m typically a good bullpen pitcher; stuff’s all over the place in there until the hitter gets into the box. But I felt great, so we’ll see what happens.”

When the moon hits your eye…

It took a while, but the Wrigley Field concessionaires finally got on board with the hottest pizza story in the city.

Starting Saturday when the Cubs play the Nationals, Wrigley pizza provider Giordano’s will rename its pepperoni pie “Quintana’s Pepperoni Pizza” in sections 103 and 129.

“I’ll take it. That’s good,” said left-hander Jose Quintana, who didn’t know until being asked about it Saturday – but who said he will gladly accept a slice.

As some might recall, Quintana called from the Cincinnati bullpen phone to the dugout looking for someone, then played along and “ordered” a pepperoni pizza after a wise-guy beat writer answered the dugout phone with “Pizza Hut.”

He beat the Reds the next day to snap a nine-start winless streak and hasn’t lost since (6-0 with a 3.40 ERA in eight starts – and 50 strikeouts to seven walks in 47l 2/3 innings).

“Pepperoni,” he said. “It keeps working.”

Quintana starts against the Pirates Sunday night in the Little League Classic.

Final word

Given the chance to talk to Little League kids Sunday in Williamsport, Maddon’s message will be simple:

“I’m just going to talk about having fun and running hard to first base,” he said. “Every manager or coach you’re going to ever have loves players who work hard and hustle.

“That’s what they need to hear. They don’t need to hear launch angles and when it’s time to replay challenge a tag at second base and all this crazy stuff that we’re devolving into.”

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