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With Cubs clinging to NL Central lead, their rotation remains in a state of flux

Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish speaks about his rehab assignment on Aug. 17, 2018 (Mark Gonzales/Chicago Tribune)

Even precautionary measures couldn’t prevent the Cubs from suffering another setback to their delicate rotation.

Mike Montgomery’s left-shoulder discomfort despite an extended break forced the Cubs to place him on the 10-day disabled list, retroactive to Tuesday. The embattled Tyler Chatwood will start in his place Saturday night against the Pirates.

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Those developments surfaced Friday shortly after Yu Darvish spoke in a terse but confident tone regarding his eventual return to the rotation despite missing the last three months with right triceps tendinitis.

“I’m at a point where physically, I’m ready for the next step,” said Darvish, whose latest comeback attempt continues Sunday with a minor-league rehabilitation start for low Class A South Bend. “This time I feel better.”

But Darvish likely will need at least two rehab starts, based on the caution he expressed. That would line him up to return by the end of August at the earliest — when the Cubs are in the midst of playing 23 consecutive days.

“It’s the first rehab assignment,” said Darvish, whose first rehab attempt was suspended after he felt discomfort in a bullpen session June 28 — four days after throwing five innings and 57 pitches for South Bend.

“Instead of airing things out, I’d rather check each column on what I’m supposed to do.”

Montgomery and the Cubs contend they’re taking the same deliberate measures with the left-hander, who joined the rotation May 28 but had his most recent turn skipped to preserve his arm for the stretch drive.

Manager Joe Maddon said Montgomery, who has made 13 starts and thrown 99 1/3 innings, felt some discomfort after pitching an inning of relief Saturday but thought it was normal soreness.

The pain persisted, however, after Montgomery threw a bullpen session Thursday.

“Honestly, I was kind of shocked,” Montgomery said after a meeting in Maddon’s office with pitching coach Jim Hickey. “I thought I’d go out there and feel fine. I’ve battled through injuries before and I let a few go but didn’t feel right.

“If it was the World Series, I would say you’re going to pitch through everything. But to pitch at a high level and not risk something that could cost me the entire season, it was a smart thing to do, to feel right. Hopefully it’s not going to take much time. I don’t know how long, but hopefully pretty quick.”

Time is precious for the Cubs, who entered play Friday with a 3½-game lead over the Brewers in the National League Central with 42 games remaining.

They’re awaiting the return of slugger Kris Bryant, who hasn’t played since July 23 because of left shoulder inflammation but could face live pitching soon.

And closer Brandon Morrow, who has yet to pitch in the second half because of right biceps inflammation, is expected to throw off a mound Saturday.

In the meantime they’ll lean on Chatwood, who was bumped from the rotation after the acquisition of Cole Hamels. Chatwood (4-5) has walked 90 hitters in 99 2/3 innings, leading to a 5.06 ERA in 22 appearances (19 starts).

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“It was weird — I didn’t know Monty was dealing with anything,” Chatwood said. “Obviously you’re excited anytime you get to start, so (it’s) unfortunate Monty had that (injury). I’ll go out there and help us try to win.”

Chatwood was unscored upon in two of his three relief appearances.

“I feel good, and I’m in a good place,” he said.

Twitter @MDGonzales

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