No closer controversy in Kimbrel's strong debut


Save your closer controversies for another day.

Craig Kimbrel started his 2021 season with a 1-2-3 ninth inning Saturday, striking out the side in a feel-good Cubs win.

Kimbrel didn't pick up the save because the Cubs held a four-run lead. Nevertheless, the outing was a far cry from his 2020 debut, when he walked four, hit a batter and allowed four runs in Cincinnati while recording a single out. A few rough outings later, he lost the closer's job.

"He wanted in [Saturday's game] no matter what," manager David Ross said postgame.

Kimbrel threw 16 pitches, 12 for strikes. He started the ninth punching out Pirates first baseman Colin Moran on three pitches, the third via a curveball on the outside corner around the knees.

Then came a seven-pitch battle against infielder Colin Newman, called out on 3-2 fastball on the inside corner. Kimbrel closed the game out the same way, getting outfielder Gregory Polanco looking on an inside fastball.

The right-hander's fastball sat at 96 mph Saturday, touching 97 on several occasions.

Ross has been emphatic since the start of spring training that Kimbrel is his closer despite the veteran struggling for large stretches the past two seasons. That message held true throughout Kimbrel's slow start to camp, leading up to a strong finish over the final few weeks.

A successful season from Kimbrel would go a long way toward what the Cubs want to accomplish this year, the final season of his three-year, $43 million deal signed back in June 2019. 


We're only two games into the season, but Kimbrel has started on the right foot.

"We've seen him build up in spring training, each performance getting better," Ross said. "He's in a really good place. The breaking ball was nice and sharp, throwing it for strikes.

"Really nice performance."

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