With each appearance that Craig Kimbrel makes in Iowa, the more anticipation for his arrival in Chicago grows. Kimbrel, who’s faced 11 batters over three appearances for the team’s Triple-A affiliate, is not far away from Wrigley. He’ll get in another inning of work on Tuesday, and then the team plans to meet with him and make a decision about next steps.
“He’s feeling really good and doing a nice job of getting himself ready,” Cubs’ President Theo Epstein said before Monday night’s game. “It’s not really about results or velo right now, it’s just kind of getting back into game shape and building that foundation. Tuesday’s an important checkpoint for him, to see how he’s feeling, and we’ll get together with him and make a call after that game.
“We’re getting close to the point where we’ll have established enough of a foundation where there’s an opportunity to take the next step provided he feels good with everything.”
Once in Chicago, expect Kimbrel to be used as a closer in the most traditional sense of the word - at least at first. That means three out appearances in save situations, as opposed to a more flexible, leverage-based role that Kimbrel has -- at times throughout his career -- pushed back against. He only pitched more than an inning twice in 2018, and has done so 26 times over the span of his 542 game career.
“With Craig, as he gets here, he’ll be slotted and really carefully,” Joe Maddon said. “And then as we get there, to the latter part of September, if it’s necessary, that’s when I think you look for the four outs possibly.
“He’ll be a three out guy when he gets here.”
Some more news and notes from Wrigley Field as the Cubs begin a 4-game series against the Braves:
- After throwing 4 innings in relief on June 20th, Cubs top prospect Adbert Alzolay will make the first start of his major league career on Tuesday night. Alzolay is the presumed odd man out once Kyle Hendricks returns, but it sounds like the Cubs will give the rookie plenty of opportunities to prove he belongs with the major league club throughout the summer. “I think it’s all about can he perform at a level that allows him to contribute and make an impact,” Epstein said. “And it’s really important because you’re always looking for contributors and especially young ones that can come in, refresh the pitching staff, and be here for a while and make an impact. We need more of those guys.”
- There were a number of updates on injured Cubs pitchers on Monday. CJ Edwards threw up to 120 feet on Monday, and felt good according to Epstein. The reliever still has to throw a handful of side sessions before the team plans to approach him with a game progression.
- Kyle Hendricks threw 15 pitches off a mound, and also felt good after. He’s possibly in line to throw a longer bullpen later this week, and Epstein had mentioned the All-Star break as a time that’s “certainly in play” for his return.
- Brandon Morrow has thrown two side sessions in Arizona, and will throw a third sometime within the next two days. Prospect Nico Hoerner is also in Arizona taking part in baseball activities. Epstein mentioned the end of this week as a time that Hoerner could start seeing live at-bats again.
- 2B prospect Robel Garcia is making a ton of noise in Iowa. The 26-year-old is slashing .294/.366/.614 with 13 home runs over 43 games this year. With a lack of production from that position at the major league level (82 wRC+, 20th in MLB), speculation on Garcia’s timeline has grown of late. “He hits the ball really, really hard from both sides of the plate,” Epstein said. “He gets it in the air a lot, especially left-handed. He can turn around anyone’s fastball. Those are good ingredients - it’ll be interesting to see how he does as the league adjusts to him a little bit and challenges him with a heavier dose of breaking stuff.
“I don’t want to put a timetable on it, but you’ve got to pay attention to a guy who’s performing at the level he is and offers the different skills that he has. Anyone on the Triple-A level is certainly on the radar.”