CHICAGO -- As the Chicago Cubs ready for a stretch run while protecting a slim lead in the National League Central, finding a way to protect tight leads late in ballgames will go a long way in their postseason chances.
With reliever Pedro Strop out for the remainder of the regular season, the Cubs not only will carry a three-game winning streak into Sunday's series finale against the Cincinnati Reds, but will do so knowing that former closer Brandon Morrow is prepared to return after being sidelined since late July.
Morrow threw a simulated game Saturday on a day when Randy Rosario and Steve Cishek became the latest relief pitchers to preserve a lead. The Cubs held off the Reds in a 1-0 victory, the third straight one-run win for Chicago.
As for the closer's role, Cubs manager Joe Maddon told reporters Saturday that even though Morrow is moving closer to returning, he won't be slotted to finish games once he's available.
"If he's ready to go and we want to put him out there, I don't think it'll be the ninth inning," Maddon said, according to MLB.com. "I want to give him a chance to break into it a little bit."
But after being sidelined for so long, Morrow told reporters he is anxious to return to the field and contribute to the Cubs' postseason chances.
"It's not for me to see (what the role will be)," Morrow told reporters. "I will throw in whatever inning Joe puts me in. I'm comfortable pitching whenever."
Jose Quintana (13-9, 3.97 ERA) will start for Chicago in Sunday's series finale. Quintana has not lost since Aug. 14 and has won both of his September starts.
The left-hander is coming off an impressive performance in his last outing when he threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings in which he allowed three hits and struck out seven against Milwaukee. Quintana is 3-1 with a 3.71 ERA in five career starts against the Reds.
Cincinnati will enter Sunday's matchup on a three-game skid and after being shut out for the first time since Aug. 26, also by the Cubs. While the Reds' starting rotation has been in flux, interim manager Jim Riggleman told reporters Saturday that he plans to shift reliever Michael Lorenzen into a starting role beginning Tuesday against the Brewers.
In 42 relief appearances this season, Lorenzen is 3-1 with a 3.21 ERA. Lorenzen learned the news on Friday.
"I'm really excited," Lorenzen told reporters Saturday, according to MLB.com. "I'm extremely thankful for the opportunity. I'm going to try and make the most of it and continue what I've been doing."
Riggleman said Lorenzen has continued to lobby for taking on a starting assignment but given the success rate Lorenzen has had as a reliever, Riggleman said he would hate to lose him in that role. So as the Reds look toward next season, Lorenzen will at least get a look starting Tuesday when he will likely pitch about four innings.
"It will be a very small sample, but we'll get a little feel for it," Riggleman said.
Luis Castillo will start for the Reds on Sunday. Castillo (9-12, 4.66) has won two of his three September starts and allowed one run and four hits in 6 1/3 innings in his last outing against the Los Angeles Dodgers while striking out nine.
Castillo is 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA in five career starts against the Cubs.