Dempster throws pain-free off mound

ATLANTA -- Chicago Cubs starter Ryan Dempster got on a mound Monday for the first time since going on the disabled list with a sore right latissimus dorsi muscle, throwing 40 pitches that he considered pain-free.

Dempster still wouldn’t rule out returning to game action before the end of the road trip, but the realistic expectation is that he comes back in the second half.

“I think if it keeps feeling good anything is possible, but at the same time I’m not going to rush something,” said Dempster, who has been out of action since June 16. “I will make sure it will be ready to go. I don’t want to put the team at a disadvantage by not being ready to throw 90, 95, 100 pitches.”

Manager Dale Sveum said that a minor-league rehab start wouldn’t hurt, but Dempster will probably only have a simulated game before coming back. If he feels fine coming out of Monday’s bullpen session, another bullpen session is expected to take place Wednesday.

The simulated game is what likely takes place before the All-Star break and not a return to action.

Once Dempster returns, trade rumors are expected to heat up. Dempster will likely be moved to a contender before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, with the Los Angeles Dodgers rumored to be the club most interested in his services.