As Kimbrel nears debut, Cubs insist they're not yet concerned about Pedro Strop


As Kimbrel nears debut, Cubs insist they're not yet concerned about Pedro Strop

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."

Joe Girardi steps down as manager for Olympic qualifying team to pursue MLB openings

Joe Girardi steps down as manager for Olympic qualifying team to pursue MLB openings

Joe Girardi’s name has come up for just about every managerial opening in Major League Baseball and it sounds like he is all in on pursuing that opportunity.

Girardi was set to manage USA Baseball’s Olympic qualifying team. He was named the manager of Team USA in August. His first tournament was going to be the upcoming Premier12 tournament, which is the first chance to qualify for the Olympics. Camp was set to begin on Oct. 21 and the U.S.’s first game is Nov. 2.

Instead, Girardi has stepped down. USA Baseball broke the news with a press release that announced Scott Brosius, a former teammate of Girardi’s on the Yankees, will take over.

The reason is the interesting part. He stepped down “as he pursues open managerial opportunities in Major League Baseball.”

At the very least, it sounds like Girardi is interested in at least one of the openings in MLB. He interviewed with the Cubs last week so this won't quell any speculation that he would come back to the North Side as a manager.

David Ross may still be the odds on favorite to fill the Cubs’ vacancy, but Girardi’s apparent interest in rejoining the ranks of MLB managers is certainly noteworthy. One would think if Girardi wants to get back into managing in MLB, at this indicates, he will get a job. Now the question is where he will land.

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Joe Maddon already has a new job, signs on with Angels

Joe Maddon already has a new job, signs on with Angels

Barring a Cubs-Angels World Series, the Wrigley Field faithful might not have much of an opportunity to welcome Joe Maddon back to The Friendly Confines.

It didn't take long for Maddon to find a job, as he reportedly agreed this week to join the Los Angeles Angels as their next manager. This was a widely speculated move after the Angels let go of manager Brad Ausmus just one year into a three-year contract immediately after the Cubs announced they were parting ways with Maddon. 

According to ESPN's Jesse Rogers, Maddon's deal will likely be for three years at $4-5 million a season:

Maddon came up as a coach in the Angels system, referencing his three decades there often during the course of his five years in Chicago.

Once the Cubs got rid of Maddon, it was obvious he would have plenty of suitors, as just about any team with a managerial vacancy would be interested in the future Hall of Famer. But instead of going to an up-and-coming team like the Padres or a squad on the cusp of the playoffs like the Phillies, Maddon opted to return to his baseball home.

That means he will most likely not face off against the Cubs over the next couple of seasons, as the Cubs hosted the Angels in 2019 and are not slated to play each other again until 2021 (which will take place in L.A.). Barring the aforementioned World Series meeting, Maddon and the Cubs likely won’t cross paths in Chicago for the next few seasons.

It also means Maddon will get to team up with the best player in the game (Mike Trout) and an exciting young two-way star (Shohei Ohtani) while inheriting a roster that otherwise has some major flaws. The Angels have struggled to build up a roster around Trout over his nine seasons, making the playoffs just once in 2014 and getting bounced from the ALDS by the Kansas City Royals that season.

But the Angels do have some intriguing prospects coming up the system — led by outfielder Jo Adell — and Maddon has experience taking a team and elevating them to contender status immediately. He also carries immediate clout that will help draw free agents to L.A., as he did in Chicago with Jon Lester.

Maddon will be reunited with former Cubs fan favorite Tommy La Stella, who was starring for the Angels earlier this season before a leg injury sent him to the shelf for several months.

In many ways, this is an ideal fit for Maddon, who will get to stay in a big market with a team willing to spend and a roster that at least has some incredible talent from Day 1. It would obviously be a difficult task to try to overtake the juggernaut Houston Astros in the AL West, but he accomplished a similar feat in Chicago when he led the Cubs past the Cardinals in Year 1 (and kept the Cards out of the playoffs for the next three years until their return to October baseball this fall).

The Cubs, meanwhile, have not yet announced a new manager, though David Ross still looms as the favorite to take over Maddon's former gig. Theo Epstein's front office interviewed Mark Loretta, Will Venable, Joe Girardi and Ross earlier this month and also planned to talk to Joe Espada and Gabe Kapler this week.

Epstein said the Cubs are "full speed ahead" to hire a new manager, so expect them to move quickly to finalize Maddon's heir.