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'A better version' of Brandon Kintzler giving Cubs bullpen a boost

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USA TODAY

'A better version' of Brandon Kintzler giving Cubs bullpen a boost

The last time Brandon Kintzler gave up a run, it was just a week after Mother's Day.

That May 19 appearance was his third in a row in which he allowed the other team to score, but no one has touched him since, including a scoreless seventh inning in Sunday's win. That lowered his season ERA to 1.91.

He's on fire this season, and Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy credits Kintzler's willingness to embrace some tweaks to his delivery in order to give him better consistency, especially with his release point.

"Release point is the most important thing. We’re trying to simplify everything else so we can get to that more consistently," Hottovy said. "We’re not trying to change who he was, we’re trying to get a better version of himself."

This took some time for Kintzler to embrace, Hottovy said. As a ten year veteran, he was set in his ways to a certain degree. Kintzler was somewhat resistant to making any changes at first, something even he would admit, Hottovy said, and after having some discussions about those changes during the offseason, he came into spring training with still largely the same delivery as he had before. Kintzler began experimenting with what Hottovy was suggesting during spring training, and as he started to see that his velocity and spin rate weren't negatively impacted, he began to buy in. 

"It was really a good job by him to take some of those suggestions that we gave him, but also to buy into them and own it," Hottovy said.

At issue was all that Kintzler was doing with his hands, his leg kick and when he was coming set. In order to get a more consistent release point, Hottovy said that they wanted to clean up his delivery and make it more compact and more athletic. And for this to really set in, Kintzler had to change his approach to his pregame work.

"His routine is diligent, he gets out there every day, does his routine," Hottovy said. "He made that a part of his daily routine, his daily program, and things have just taken off."

The positive impact is undeniable. As a part of keeping runners from scoring, Kintzler's sinker and slider have gotten more consistent drop than in 2018, and both have gone back to being very hard to hit. Last year, batters had little trouble with his sinker, hitting .295 against it, but that's down to .183 this year. And the same has happened with Kintzler's slider. In 2018, it was hit at a .278 clip, and this year, .083. Those are much better numbers than even when he was an All-Star closer with the Twins in 2017. Kintzler is still primarily a sinkerball pitcher, but having a more effective breaking pitch has helped round out his repertoire.

The Cubs signed Craig Kimbrel in early June to cement the back end of the bullpen, but it shouldn't be missed that Kintzler's willingness to adjust that has led to his bounce-back year has also played a key role in getting those much-needed final outs.

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Kris Bryant and wife Jessica take batting practice at home, with fun twist

Kris Bryant and wife Jessica take batting practice at home, with fun twist

The baseball season is on hold due to COVID-19, but Kris Bryant is still getting his work in.

Sunday, Bryant shared clips of him and his wife, Jessica, taking batting practice in their at-home cage. We know Bryant has a nice swing, but Jessica — who played high school softball — has quite the sweet stroke herself.

Not to be outdone, Bryant wraps up the post by showing a highlight of the home run he hit at the 2016 All-Star game.

Ah, sweet nostalgia.

The Bryant's son is due in the near future, so perhaps we'll get a look at all three in the cage in a couple of years. With an at-home facility, the kid is going to be a stud, right?

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Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel's unique pitching pose stemmed from an injury

Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel's unique pitching pose stemmed from an injury

Craig Kimbrel’s debut season with the Cubs didn’t go well. The closer on a Hall of Fame trajectory went 0-4 with a 6.53 ERA (8.00 FIP) and 1.597 WHIP in 2019, converting 13 of 16 save tries.

Kimbrel had an abnormal preseason last year and didn’t make his season debut until late June. 2020 is a clean slate for the right-hander, but Major League Baseball is looking at an unorthodox season due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Whenever the season starts, Kimbrel has the chance to start fresh and put last year’s struggles behind him. Until then, here’s a few things to know about him:

1. Kimbrel was born in Huntsville, Ala., and played quarterback as a junior and senior at Lee High School. Per a Q&A on his website, the school featured a run-oriented offense, and Kimbrel said he "wasn't really good." Alas.

2. Post-grad, Kimbrel attended Wallace State Community College in Hanceville, Ala. He went 8-0 with a 1.99 ERA as a freshman, leading to the Braves selecting him in the 33rd round of the 2007 draft.

Kimbrel returned to school and improved his draft stock, going 9-3 with a 2.88 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 81 innings as a sophomore. Atlanta drafted him again in 2008, this time in the third round.

3. Kimbrel’s pitching stance is notorious — he bends his torso parallel to the ground and dangles his arm at a 90-degree angle. But he doesn’t do it for kicks. It became too painful for him to hold his arm behind his back in 2010, when he suffered from biceps tendinitis.

Opposing fans have made fun of the stance, but hey, it’s unique.

4. During his time with the Red Sox (2017-18) Kimbrel and his teammates — including David Price, Chris Sale and Xander Bogaerts — became avid fans of “Fortnite,” the multiplayer-focused video game that took the world by storm two years ago.

“Let’s say we get back at 11 p.m. from a game, we’ll play until 1 a.m., 1:30 a.m., 2 a.m. depending on what time our game is the next day,” David Price told The Athletic in 2018. “But day games or off days, we can put some time in.”

Same, David. Same.

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