ST. LOUIS — Jake Arrieta is preparing to return to the Chicago Cubs rotation, just in time for the big sell-off.

Manager David Ross said Tuesday that Arrieta had a bullpen session over the weekend in Arizona and will have another Thursday or Friday before the Cubs assess their next move.

Arrieta has been on the injured list since July 7, when the Cubs announced he had right hamstring tightness. That was one day after he allowed seven runs in 1⅔ innings in a 15-10 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, extending the Cubs’ losing streak to 11 games.

With an 8.55 ERA over his last 12 starts, Arrieta’s future with the Cubs was in question when he went on the IL. At the time Ross said he didn’t know who could replace him in the rotation, but that was before President Jed Hoyer said the team would be moving in a different direction at the trade deadline after the losing streak.

“When you’re in this moment and your playoff odds get into single digits at this time of the year,” Hoyer said, “you have to keep an eye on the future and think about what moves you can potentially make that could help build the next great Cubs team.”

That future likely involves left-hander Justin Steele, whom Hoyer envisions as a potential starter, perhaps later this season. Asked before Tuesday’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals if he envisions Arrieta going back into the rotation, Ross replied: “I do.”

In other words, Arrieta is going down with the ship.

So shouldn’t Arrieta go down to Triple-A Iowa to rehab and stretch out before returning?

“We’ll watch that,” Ross said. “He doesn’t ever have to. The rules say they don’t have to (accept a minor-league rehab assignment). We’ll talk to him about what’s best for him and this group and try to get on the same page with all that.

“But I think he’s veteran enough. He knows his body. He’s been around a long time. I’ll trust his feedback when we have a conversation for sure.”

Getting a mental break could be just as important for Arrieta, who started out well in his return to the Cubs this season but crashed after only five starts. Ross recalled his own IL stint in 2016 after suffering a concussion before the All-Star break.

“It was nice to have a mental break for me,” he said. “Not performance-wise, which for guys that are struggling I think can help. Just as a veteran and playing the game a long time, a break in the middle can help the body and the mind.

“I’d say probably if you spoke to him, he hates the break because he wants to be out there competing. But especially for a veteran guy, a break in the middle of the season to reassess when you’re not performing the way you want to isn’t a bad thing.”

Of course, we could not speak to him. Arrieta wasn’t available Tuesday and hasn’t spoken to the media since his last start, when he was asked if his days as an effective starter were done.

“Not even close,” he replied. “This sucks. Really, it does. But I’m not going to hang my head. I’m going to continue to work. I’m going to do whatever needs to be done.”

Arrieta’s work ethic never has been in question. But it’s past time for the Cubs to have a tough-love conversation about his role on the team or if he should continue pitching at all. If the Cubs really have one eye on the future, it’s hard to imagine one with Arrieta taking the mound every fifth day.

That’s the conundrum Hoyer faces as he tries to build “the next great Cubs team.” Veterans such as Arrieta, Eric Sogard and Jake Marisnick were stopgap signings and shouldn’t be considered part of the future. But without a productive farm system, this is what the Cubs are settling for as Hoyer listens to offers for Kris Bryant, Javier Báez, Anthony Rizzo, Craig Kimbrel and others to restock the system.

Infielder Matt Duffy will return from rehab at Iowa on Thursday, which could mean the end for Sogard unless the Cubs manage to trade Bryant in the next two days. Another option is sending the .180-hitting Ian Happ to Iowa to get his act together.

Is Duffy part of that Cubs future? He’ll be 31 next year and is injury-prone, so it doesn’t seem too likely.

How about third baseman Patrick Wisdom? He leads all rookies with 14 home runs but turns 30 in August. If Rizzo is dealt, would the Cubs turn to 29-year-old first baseman Frank Schwindel, whom they claimed off waivers last week and optioned to Triple-A Iowa?

If the future is full of 30-something players, it’s a return to the Cubs of old.

No wonder Hoyer doesn’t want to call it a rebuild.

Perhaps a reanimation is the more appropriate label.

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Copyright 2021 Tribune Content Agency.

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