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Neil Ramirez's return a boost for the bullpen, rotation still has a hole

ST.LOUIS -- The Chicago Cubs activated reliever Neil Ramirez from the disabled list on Sunday while placing lefty Tsuyoshi Wada on it with inflammation in his throwing arm.

“I feel real good,” Ramirez said Sunday after missing nearly two months with shoulder inflammation. “I’m back to where I need to be.”

Ramirez was a key part of last year’s success in the bullpen as he struck out 53 batters in 43.2 innings pitched. He appeared in 50 games producing a sparkling 1.44 ERA as well proving to be a go-to-guy in the late innings. If he recaptures that form the Cubs bullpen could return to prominence -- though it’s been very good lately without Ramirez.

“For whatever reason something wasn’t right,” Ramirez said of his end to spring training. “When I’m out there throwing 90 mph that’s not me.”

Ramirez started, then stopped, his rehab after feeling something so his recovery took longer than expected. Cubs manager Joe Maddon will try to ease Ramirez back into action but his presence can make a big difference for an effective but overused bullpen.

“There are some underlying strength issues we had to address,” Ramirez said. “We did it the right way and I’m back to being where I need to be to compete with these guys.”

Another start for Roach?

With Wada needing more time to recover from a deltoid cramp, which forced him out of his last outing, Donn Roach could get another start but right now he’s been relegated to bullpen duty. Maddon thinks Roach threw well in his debut on Saturday night though he lasted only 3.1 innings after the Cardinals peppered him with singles and doubles in their 8-1 victory.

The move to the bullpen means the Cubs need a starter for next Saturday against the Miami Marlins but manager Joe Maddon isn’t committing to anyone just yet. It still could be Roach but it depends if he’s called upon this week.

“He’s high contact, high ground ball,” Maddon said.

That trait could prove useful coming out of the bullpen in case Maddon is looking for a ground ball. The more important issue is who gets that spot in the rotation against the Marlins.

“The focus is going to be what happens next Saturday,” Maddon said.

The uncertainty highlights the Cubs inconsistency in their rotation right now. They’re a far cry from rolling five starters out every five days so mixing and matching while taking a wait-and-see approach is about the best they can do right now.

“We’ll just play it out,” Maddon said. “Of course there has to be a conversation as you get closer. There has to be a Plan B ready but if we need to utilize him in another role we’ll do that.”