CHICAGO – If you had 20 days in the pool for when he would be ready to join the Cubs, you’ve won.
That’s how long it has been since Craig Kimbrel was introduced by the team at Wrigley Field on June 7 and when he’ll join the bullpen on Thursday afternoon against the Braves.
There is no guarantee the closer, who signed a three-year, $43 million contract earlier in the month, will take the mound at the Friendly Confines in his first game. But Joe Maddon did confirm that he’ll be at his disposal should he be needed in the final contest of a ten-game homestand, revealing the move to call-up Kimbrel as he takes the place of Tony Barnette, who heads to Triple-A Iowa.
Now the question is how the experience closer, who has 333 saves during his nine-year career, will be able to perform, and when that will be. It has been since last October that Kimbrel last pitched in a major league game, sending the last three weeks getting up to speed after not playing the first two months of the season.
In four appearances with the Iowa Cubs, Kimbrel allowed just one run on one homer, two total hits, striking out four batters while walking one in 3.2 innings of work. For the most part, there were no reasons for concern, as the closer seemed to pick things back up fast.
That could be good considering that Kimbrel enjoyed a strong regular season in 2018 as he saved 42 of 47 games for the Red Sox with a 2.74 ERA. One thing that could be lingering, however, is his performance in the playoffs, where his outings were much rockier than they were in the regular season.
Kimbrel held all six of his save attempts in Boston’s run to a World Series championship, but he uncharacteristically allowed seven earned runs in 10 2/3 innings to make some of the finishes an adventure.
Either way the Cubs won’t mind having him in the bullpen, considering the closer role has been filled by two pitchers. Pedro Strop has nine saves and Steve Cishek seven, with each looking to move into a set-up role now that Kimbrel is in the bullpen.
Of course, a debut against the Braves would be fitting, considering the closer first made a name for himself in Atlanta at the beginning of the decade. Kimbrel saved no less than 42 games in his final four seasons, with his career-high of 50 coming in 2013.
He did enough work over the last 20 days to give himself the chance to debut against his former team, hoping to give his new one a boost as they chase a title into the fall.