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neil ramirez moundThis weekend, Luis updated you on rehabbing outfielder Jorge Soler (taking batting practice, rehab assignment could be around the corner) and third baseman Mike Olt (on a rehab assignment at AA Tennessee), but there’s another name to update you on, and he might be the closest to returning.

Righty Neil Ramirez was a huge part of the Cubs’ bullpen last year, but he’s been absent for pretty much the entire season so far thanks to right shoulder inflammation that popped up in early April. The Cubs played it safe with his return – I’m guessing past shoulder issues, and the risk associated with shoulder problems had a lot to do with it – but he’s not on a rehab assignment at AA Tennessee.

So far, so good. After an appearance on Wednesday, Ramirez pitched again yesterday, and the results were as good as it gets: he faced three batters and he struck out three batters.

Cubs.com reports that Ramirez is expected to move up to AAA Iowa this week, which would presumably be for his next appearance. It’s not clear if he’s ready to go at least every other day (which is where he needs to be in order to really contribute to the Cubs), but we’ll see if he moves up to Iowa and appears on Tuesday.

Either way, by moving up to Iowa, Ramirez will be tantalizingly close to returning to the Cubs. With perhaps two appearances for the I-Cubs this week, we could be looking at Ramirez back to the Cubs by the weekend or next week.

The Cubs will have to make a decision at that point, as they’re already going with an eight-man bullpen (and Zac Rosscup is already on the DL with a shoulder inflammation issue of his own … and Rafael Soriano could be coming in a few weeks … and Jacob Turner could need a spot very soon, since he’s rehabbing and is out of options):

  • Hector Rondon
  • Pedro Strop
  • Jason Motte
  • Justin Grimm
  • Travis Wood
  • James Russell
  • Yoervis Medina
  • Edwin Jackson

You can safely assume that the top five guys there aren’t going anywhere right now, and Edwin Jackson has been pitching well in a mop-up role (and his contract makes it very hard to move him out). Russell cannot be optioned to Iowa, and Medina can. That might wind up the deciding factor, even as the Cubs recognize that Medina has a whole lot of upside. Perhaps an injury will clarify things before Ramirez returns.

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