Justin Steele seems OK, but Ian Happ’s status murky for Cubs’ season opener against Rangers

The Cubs haven’t made any contingency plans in the event Justin Steele suffers a regression, and he plans to throw 35 to 40 pitches Monday or Tuesday in his last bullpen session before the opener.

Matt York/AP

MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs and left-hander Justin Steele are confident that his bruised left knee won’t prevent him from facing the World Series champion Rangers.

The prognosis for left fielder Ian Happ, however, seems murky because his recovery from a left hamstring injury has plateaued.

Manager Craig Counsell said Opening Day is “not in jeopardy yet.” Nevertheless, Happ is expected to sit for a third consecutive day and won’t return until Monday against the Cardinals in the second-to-last exhibition game. He could be relegated to designated-hitter duties for the opener.

Happ performed outfield drills during Saturday morning’s workout. He originally injured his leg in early March and has been limited to 18 at-bats in exhibition play, not counting work in minor-league games.

Steele, meanwhile, walked with a slight limp but threw from 120 feet as part of his routine the day after starts.

The Cubs haven’t made any contingency plans in the event Steele suffers a regression, and he plans to throw 35 to 40 pitches Monday or Tuesday in his last bullpen session before the opener.

Steele absorbed a line drive in the second inning Friday against the Giants and came out of the game. He compared the ailment to a similar injury he suffered in August but didn’t miss a start.

“This one hurt a little more, on bone,” Steele said.

Cooper in loop

Non-roster invitee Garrett Cooper was delighted to learn he made the Opening Day roster. A right-handed hitter, he’ll back up first base and DH.

Cooper, who hit 17 home runs with the Marlins and Padres in 2023, credited former Cubs assistant hitting coach Mike Brumley for making a few adjustments after he batted a career-low .251 last season.

“It shows you did something right during spring training,” Cooper said.

The Cubs will have to make room for Cooper on the 40-man roster, with pitcher Caleb Kilian (shoulder) likely to be transferred to the 60-day injured list.

Roster roundup

Counsell confirmed that first baseman Dominic Smith and reliever Carl Edwards Jr. opted out of their contracts. Edwards changed the photo, flashing the peace sign, on his X (formerly Twitter) account after opting out of his minor-league contract.

Smith and Edwards were non-roster invitees and could be signed to minor-league deals if an attractive offer from another organization doesn’t arise.

Infielder Nick Madrigal (hamstring) is scheduled to play in a minor-league game Sunday, which could dictate whether he starts the season on the 15-day injured list.

Left-handed-hitting outfielder David Peralta, another non-roster invitee, will remain in Arizona when the season starts to continue his rehab after surgery on his left flexor tendon last October. Peralta remains under the supervision of the medical staff and isn’t close to playing the outfield, Counsell said.

Brewers 7, Cubs 4

The Cubs fell to 16-13-2 after their third consecutive loss before 16,118 at Sloan Park on Saturday. Reliever Daniel Palencia, who was optioned to Triple-A Iowa earlier this week, was tagged for five runs and four hits in the seventh inning to snap a 1-1 tie.

• Ben Brown, who is destined to be promoted to the big-league roster during the 2024 season, pitched four scoreless innings. He threw an 87 mph changeup to freeze Jake Bauers for a called third strike to end a perfect first.

• With Ian Happ recovering from a left hamstring ailment, Nico Hoerner moved into the leadoff spot and had two hits, including a triple that gave the Cubs a short-lived 1-0 lead in the fifth.

Hoerner raised his batting average from .136 to .170.

• With spring training concluding Tuesday, the Cubs have maintained their fundamental work — albeit in a unique manner. The pitchers had fielding practice on their agility field before the game. They fielded grounders and threw to a dunking booth with pitching coach Tommy Hottovy sitting on a platform as the intended victim.

When asked if he would participate in the drill, manager Craig Counsell said, “I’ve had no requests.”

• On deck: Cubs at Mariners, 3:10 p.m. Sunday, Peoria, 670-AM, Kyle Hendricks vs. Logan Gilbert.

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