The two most important arms at the back end of the Cubs bullpen have been trending in opposite directions recently.
Craig Kimbrel threw an 8-pitch outing Tuesday with Triple-A Iowa and will pitch again for the club Friday. There's a potential he goes again Saturday depending on how much he throws Friday and if his body responds well after only the second game action he's seen since last October. GM Jed Hoyer said the Cubs are going game-to-game on Kimbrel right now as he builds strength and stamina back up.
Meanwhile, Pedro Strop — the Cubs' interim closer — was unavailable Thursday night even though he didn't pitch the previous day.
Joe Maddon went to Steve Cishek in the ninth inning to close out the win over the Mets and said he wanted to stay away from Strop if he could to give the veteran an extra day of rest. (Maddon also said he initially hoped rookie phenom Adbert Alzolay would be able to finish the ninth inning so nobody was getting loose in the Cubs bullpen until Alzolay gave up a homer and then at that point, it was easier for the rubber-armed Cishek to get warm more quickly than Strop.)
Strop has also seen a slight dip in velocity lately — he began the season throwing his fastball around his usual velo (95.2 mph), but it's slowly declined since and he's averaging just 93.84 mph in June:
He also hasn't quite looked like himself since his return from a hamstring injury June 4. In 6 appearances (4 innings) in that span, Strop has served up 2 homers and given up 3 runs, including the game-winning homer to Eloy Jimenez Tuesday night at Wrigley Field. His season ERA now sits at 5.52 in 18 games.
It's obviously a small sample size, but couple the struggles with the velocity dip and the trio of hamstring injuries over the last nine months and there's enough there to stir up the rumblings of concern around the 34-year-old.
But Maddon insists he's not worried about Strop at the moment.
"No, [there's no concern right now]," Maddon said. "He tells me he feels great. 'I feel great' — that's his quote. So I believe him. I just thought [Thursday], talking to him before the game, he's just reticent a little bit — 'I'm not 100 percent, but I'm feeling really good' — so I'll give him one more day."
Maddon said it has nothing to do with the hamstring injury and felt like he had leaned on Strop a bit too much out of the bullpen since he returned from the injured list.
However, the Cubs were very cautious with Strop in his recovery from the hamstring injury, stretching out his minor-league rehab assignment in an attempt to ensure he'd be in top form when he returned to the big-league bullpen.
They want to do the same thing with Kimbrel right now and even though there's certainly temptation to rush the dynamic closer up to Chicago, the Cubs are still thinking big picture with their shiny new toy in the bullpen.
They know they're going to have to rely on both Kimbrel and Strop a bunch down the stretch and don't want to push either veteran right now in mid-June.
"We're trying to avoid the rush component of this whole thing," Maddon said. "...I'm a big believer in listening to a guy like Kimbrel and what he has to say. He's been there, done that, he knows himself, he knows his body. But then again, like when Stroppy was coming back from his injury, we kept pushing it back because we knew biology-wise, we really needed to be careful with that.
"I'm not in a hurry. Of course I want [Kimbrel] here, but I prefer all the natural steps to be taken and the fact that he feels good about it also is gonna be important. So I think it's a conversation."