Pedro Strop looks strong in return to Cubs' bullpen

CHICAGO -- With the return of Pedro Strop, the Chicago Cubs moved a step closer to getting their postseason roster whole Friday, two weeks before the club’s first 2016 postseason game at Wrigley Field.

Strop worked a scoreless eighth during Chicago's 5-0 throttling of St. Louis. He began by walking Cardinals third baseman Jhonny Peralta on four pitches but settled in nicely, striking out Kolten Wong and getting pinch hitter Brandon Moss on an inning-ending double play. Strop threw 13 pitches in the outing.

“That was exciting,” Strop said. “Especially feeling the way I felt. I felt really good. The first hitter, my four-seamer was kind of off. But once I started throwing my two-seamer, it was there. It was nice to be back in a real game.”

Strop was activated from the DL before the game. He had been out since Aug. 10 with a torn meniscus in his left knee. He suffered the injury when trying to make a sliding stop of a swinging bunt by the Angels’ Yunel Escobar in a game at Wrigley Field. Strop had the injury surgically repaired and his rehab advanced rapidly. However, he suffered a slightly pulled groin while working out, delaying his return. So it would have been understandable had Strop been a little wound up when he took the hill.

“I was making sure that wouldn’t happen to me,” Strop said. “It may have looked like it because I walked the guy on four pitches, but that wasn’t it. I was really focused on being myself, whatever the situation.”

As far as repertoire, Strop was a little more fastball-heavy than normal, throwing the heater on eight of his 13 offerings. Because of that, his average velocity (90.1) was a couple of ticks higher than average. His radar readings on both the fastball and his slidery-curve were right in line with his pre-injury numbers.

“We definitely wanted to get him in the game today,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He told me afterward he felt really good. Of course he’s going to be a little bit [nervous] out there -- you haven't been out there in a while. Once he settled in and his slider became his pitch again, he felt at home. We’re going to get him out there over the next week on a semi-regular basis to try and stretch him out.”

While Strop was out, the Cubs’ bullpen fared quite nicely. During his absence, Chicago’s relievers posted a collective 3.35 ERA, ranking seventh in baseball during that span. Nevertheless, with Strop back in the mix, Maddon has the revamped back of the bullpen he wants, with Strop setting up Hector Rondon, who is setting up Aroldis Chapman. The trio has pitched in the same game just three times since Chapman was acquired from the Yankees in July.

Soler returns, too: If you blinked, you might have missed it, but the Cubs also got outfielder Jorge Soler back in action Friday. Soler pinch hit in the seventh, striking out against Cardinals reliever Zach Duke. Soler had been out since last Saturday with soreness in his right side.