Craig Kimbrel’s brief appearance in the Cubs’ 5-4 victory over the Royals on Tuesday offered a glimpse into what he’s working on in bullpen sessions behind the scenes.
“I've been working a lot,” the seven-time All-Star closer said Wednesday. “I felt like last night I did some things a little better, but when it comes down to it, you still have to execute a certain pitch at a certain location at certain times. And I wasn’t able to do that.”
Tuesday was the least troubling of Kimbrel’s three outings this season, which isn’t much of a vote of confidence after four walks in his first and back-to-back home runs in his second. On Tuesday, Kimbrel recorded one strikeout and put two runners in scoring position before Cubs manager David Ross replaced him with Kyle Ryan. Both runners scored.
Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said the focus for Kimbrel, as he works through mechanical issues, is consistency.
“I think that's the key to pitching in general,” Hottovy said, “consistency in mechanics, consistency in delivery, consistency in where your release points are. All those things add up to better stuff, better velo, better spin, but also better command.”
Hottovy has identified inconsistency in Kimbrel’s arm path and release point. Kimbrel’s control issues stem from that. Those control issues have shown up in different ways for his two pitches.
First, the fastball: Hottovy used two different at-bats in Kimbrel’s appearance Tuesday night as an example.
Against Royals pinch hitter Franchy Cordero, Kimbrel located a 97-mph fastball at the top of the zone for a swing-and-miss strike three. Against Adalberto Mondesi, that same pitch crept into the middle of the zone, and Mondesi scorched a line drive off the right field wall.
“What you see from Craig, the stuff is still trending in the right direction,” Hottovy said. “The breaking ball was better yesterday. The fastball life is coming back. But in the end, in this game, we're facing professional hitters.”
Professional Hitters who can make a pitcher pay for a mistake.
That becomes especially easy when teams can gear up for one pitch and ignore the rest.
“You have to get them to honor it,” Hottovy said of Kimbrel’s curve ball, “and to get them to honor it, you have to consistently be able to throw that pitch in the strike zone, and then be able to attack (with the) fastball.”
Kimbrel has faced three different teams: The Reds, Pirates and Royals. None of them have swung at his curve ball.
“I think at times it's one of two things,” Kimbrel said, “Either I'm showing it too early or it's not starting as a strike, or they've already had that game plan to eliminate the curve ball.”
In the Reds’ case, it was the latter. Cincinnati rookie Tyler Stephenson told reporters as much after the game. He laid off three curve balls in his at-bat against Kimbrel. Stephenson walked.
According to Hottovy, Kimbrel is working on slowing down his lower body – “staying taller, sitting more on his back side” – to consistently give his arm time to get to the right release point.
“I'm still going out there trying to compete,” Kimbrel said. “I'm not going out there and saying, 'I think I'm going to get beat today, I don't want to be out here.' By no means am I anywhere close to that. I think if anything, it’s just more frustration towards myself (for) putting myself in I'm spot I'm in, … having to ask guys to get up and throw more, based on my performance.”
The Cubs will get a taste of Major League Baseball's new doubleheader format later this month.
On Aug. 29, the Cubs and Reds will make up their July 30 rainout as part of a seven-inning doubleheader.
Our 7/30 rainout vs. the Reds has been rescheduled for Saturday, 8/29.— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) August 5, 2020
We'll play a doubleheader starting at 3:10 p.m. CDT. Each game will be seven innings. pic.twitter.com/Ii4bUP8LZI
MLB recently changed its doubleheader format for 2020 only in wake of numerous postponements across the league due to the Marlins COVID-19 outbreak. All doubleheaders going forward this season are seven innings each, the idea being to reduce the wear and tear on pitchers' arms.
Pitchers have been going down at alarming rates early in this 60-game season after baseball's long shutdown and quick ramp-up in Summer Camp.
The Cardinals also have seven games to make up due to their recent outbreak.