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‘This is my home.’ How Pedro Strop — back with the Chicago Cubs — revamped his offseason routine so he can return to his old form.

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 3/4/2021 Meghan Montemurro, Chicago Tribune
a group of people sitting at a dock: Trey Guerra holds his 3-year-old cousin Kylo Kempfer as he waves at Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo before a spring training game against the Padres at the Peoria Sports Complex on March 1, 2021. © Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS Trey Guerra holds his 3-year-old cousin Kylo Kempfer as he waves at Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo before a spring training game against the Padres at the Peoria Sports Complex on March 1, 2021.

Pedro Strop is in his happy place.

Seated at a table next to a back field at the Chicago Cubs spring training complex before Wednesday’s game, Strop was where he wanted to be. He had other minor-league offers with big-league camp invitations. But why go elsewhere when the same option was available with the Cubs?

“Man, it’s always fun when you go home,” Strop said. “That’s what I consider the Cubs. This is my home. This is my house.”

The reunion between the Cubs and Strop began in September when he signed with the organization after the Cincinnati Reds released him. He reported to the alternate site in South Bend, Ind., but an injury to his hip and groin area ended his hope of pitching in the majors again in 2020.

a group of people walking in front of a building: Fans and staff walk through the concourse at Sloan Park before the Cubs' spring home opener against the Royals on March 2, 2021. © Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS Fans and staff walk through the concourse at Sloan Park before the Cubs' spring home opener against the Royals on March 2, 2021.

The recovery process would have taken too long for him to help the Cubs late in the season. Strop admitted he got a little depressed watching the team head to the playoffs. He went home to the Dominican Republic and focused on preparing his body for 2021.

At 35, Strop knows taking better care of his body will dictate his big-league future. Lower-body injuries were his nemesis the last two years. He missed nearly a month with the Cubs in 2019 because of a left hamstring strain. Then last August with the Reds, he sustained a right groin strain and missed two weeks. A month later, he suffered a similar injury at the Cubs alternate site.

Figuring out how to eliminate those injuries became an offseason priority. Strop ate better and lost 20 pounds to take stress off his legs. He cut down on weightlifting, particularly with his upper body, which made him more svelte and less bulky. He focused his routine on becoming more flexible — incorporating a lot of stretching — rather than building strength. He reported to the Cubs 100% healthy.

a man that is standing in the grass: 7-year-old Maxwell Bjes stands in the lawn behind the outfield before the Cubs play the Royals in the Cactus League home opener at Sloan Park on March 2, 2021. © Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS 7-year-old Maxwell Bjes stands in the lawn behind the outfield before the Cubs play the Royals in the Cactus League home opener at Sloan Park on March 2, 2021.

“I’m so happy where I’m at right now,” Strop said. “I don’t have any issues at all. I’m not even going to the training room to do anything. I really believe it is going to be better for me over the course of the year.”

Strop has seen a major decline in his fastball velocity. It averaged 95.4 mph and hit 98 mph during the 2018 season. But that average dipped to 93.7 mph in 2019, the last time he pitched for the Cubs, and fell again in 2020 to 92.1 mph. Strop didn’t throw a fastball harder than 93.2 mph in his four appearances for the Reds last season.

Better health yields better velocity. At least that’s what the Cubs and Strop believe will happen with his injuries hopefully behind him.

Strop isn’t expecting to unleash 98 mph heaters at this point in his career. He’s confident, though, that he can consistently throw 94 to 95 mph. If that happens, he expects good results. Improved fastball velocity would help his secondary pitches too. Strop has been pleased with how his slider looks in camp.

“When you’re going through a lot of injuries, you don’t get time to develop that fastball velocity,” he said. “You’re taking care of other stuff and throwing off the mound a little bit afraid of getting hurt again. So that could be (why) your velocity goes down.

“The more that I’ll be getting on the mound, I think it’s going to be better for me and my velocity.”

Strop threw a bullpen session Wednesday and anticipates throwing live batting practice before making his Cactus League debut. His nonroster status doesn’t guarantee he makes the opening roster. It’s hard to envision a scenario, however, in which Strop isn’t on the team if he makes it through camp healthy while consistently flashing a mid-90s fastball.

a man wearing a hat standing in front of a crowd: Jacob Valente, 19, watches players enter before the Cubs play the Royals in the Cactus League home opener at Sloan Park on March 2, 2021. © Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS Jacob Valente, 19, watches players enter before the Cubs play the Royals in the Cactus League home opener at Sloan Park on March 2, 2021.

“I mean, he’s like a ray of sunshine in camp,” Cubs President Jed Hoyer said last week. “You know, the guy’s never had a bad day and lifts everyone else up. It’s fun to have him around.”

Strop returned to a different team than the one he left after the 2019 season. Some key pieces are gone, and more could leave in the offseason.

What hasn’t changed is the value of Strop’s leadership and clubhouse presence. Teams need players like him for more than what they can do on the field. Strop knows there are no guarantees he flies back to Chicago at the end of the month with the rest of the club. He has 3 1/4 u00bd weeks to make his case.

“The only thing I can control is just come out there and compete whenever I’ve got the ball and prove to them that I’m healthy — that I’m the same Pedro Strop that was here a couple years ago,” he said. “Other than that, whatever they do, it’s not going to affect my mind or my preparation. I’m going to keep doing my thing.”

a baseball player holding a bat on a field: Terry Friese rubs his hat while sitting in socially-distant squares in the lawn behind the outfield before the Cubs play the Padres at the Peoria Sports Complex on March 1, 2021.

Terry Friese rubs his hat while sitting in socially-distant squares in the lawn behind the outfield before the Cubs play the Padres at the Peoria Sports Complex on March 1, 2021.
© Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS
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