CHICAGO -- X-rays of Ryan Dempster's right big toe Thursday showed excellent healing, the Cubs said, and the right-hander could return to the rotation sometime next week.
Dempster threw 60 pitches on Wednesday in Philadelphia and felt he could start on Sunday, but the team wanted to wait for the X-ray results before setting a day. Kevin Hart will start Sunday for the Cubs against the Cincinnati Reds.
Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild said Dempster could possibly return as early as this weekend, but manager Lou Piniella said that might be a little too optimistic.
"I'm not as optimistic," Piniella said Wednesday. "I think on the next turn in the rotation, we can put him in Wednesday or Thursday [against the Astros]."
Piniella and Rothschild needed to meet to discuss the rotation plans before announcing a day. Thursday was an off-day for the team.
Whether it's this weekend or later next week, Dempster will return before he was expected to. The right-hander injured his toe jumping over the railing in front of the Cubs' dugout at Wrigley Field on July 5. He's been able to keep his arm in shape and do his cardio work, switching from running to bike riding. Dempster was to do some light running on Friday.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.