Cubs feel good about health entering series finale vs. Reds

CINCINNATI — Slowly but surely, the Chicago Cubs are getting healthy. And at just the right time.

Catcher Willson Contreras, shortstop Addison Russell and left-hander Jon Lester all have gotten positive reports from their side work at Great American Ball Park during the three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds, and all three are ready for the next steps toward being reinstated from the disabled list.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon said the silver lining to the sudden rash of injuries is that those guys should benefit from the rest.

“The guys that have been hurt will come back a little fresh,” Maddon said. “We intend on playing another couple of months.”

The Cubs and Reds play the final game of the series on Thursday night. Chicago (68-57) has won five straight games and is a season-high 11 games above .500.

“We’ve been able to hold serve well,” Maddon said. “We’ve actually gotten better. The starters have gotten better. The bullpen’s trending in the right direction. There’s a lot of good stuff.”

Russell should return soon, but he will need a couple of rehab starts. Contreras will take as much time as needed to make sure his hamstring is 100 percent. Lester is scheduled to throw a bullpen on Friday in Philadelphia.

So things are looking good for the defending World Series champions.

First things first: The Cubs are looking to complete the sweep of Cincinnati, with right-hander Jake Arrieta set to make his 26th start of the season.

Arrieta (13-8, 3.63 ERA) picked up his team-high 13th win on Friday against Toronto and has allowed two or fewer earned runs in each of his seven straight quality starts, going 5-1 with a 2.00 ERA in that stretch.

Arrieta has made five straight road starts against the Reds, and the Cubs have won all of them.

Reds right-hander Sal Romano (3-5, 5.32) doesn’t turn 24 until October, but he will make his 10th career appearance and eighth straight start. He’s one of four rookies in the Reds’ rotation. It will be his first appearance against the Cubs.

The Reds (53-74) are expected to start rookie Jesse Winker on Thursday.

Winker is batting .309 in 14 appearances since being recalled on Aug. 1. In order to free up playing time for Winker, the Reds optioned outfielder Philip Ervin to Triple-A on Wednesday.

“We knew we were going to send (Ervin) to Louisville to get some regular at-bats before September,” Reds manager Bryan Price said. “Winker already isn’t getting regular at-bats, and it’s harder with two guys.”

The Cubs have won 28 of the past 37 games against Cincinnati and nine of the previous 12 series. The teams split a four-game series at Wrigley Field last week.

Chicago hopes to have third baseman Kris Bryant back in the lineup. He missed Wednesday’s game after being hit on the left hand by a pitch on Tuesday night.

“We’re in the latter part of August,” Maddon said. “When you move into that next month, man, and you’re in the running, it’s a different vibe. You can see the finish line. The weather cools down. It’s a different feeling coming to the ballpark every day.”