Cubs

What is Craig Kimbrel's timeline for joining Cubs?

What is Craig Kimbrel's timeline for joining Cubs?

The Cubs have done it — they've appeased every fan who has asked for them to sign Craig Kimbrel to bolster the team's bullpen.

But now when can fans see Kimbrel suiting up in Cubbie blue, dangling his arm in an upside down "W" right before the crowd flies the "W"?

There is no surefire answer right now, but the expectation is it will take at least three weeks for Kimbrel to get up to speed to join the big-league bullpen.

That's the standard time veteran relievers take in spring training to get ramped up for the season and the Cubs have no interest in rushing Kimbrel or jumping the gun just to get immediate help in the bullpen.

"First, I'd like to find out exactly what he's been doing," Joe Maddon said before Thursday's 3-1 loss to the Rockies. "It's different because a guy like himself, I would imagine he's really been throwing a lot. Maybe he's been on a particular schedule. I don't know if he's throwing to hitters wherever he's located. 

"The first thing you do is find that part of it out. And then after that, I think you can develop the length of whatever you want to do and then set up the program regarding throw — how many days off — throw and then possibly build it up to like two in a row, something like that. But I don't know the answer. 

"A three-week window normally sounds about right. Think about relief pitchers in spring training — we normally don't start them until the first week of March and then you're ready by April. Conventionally, it would be like that kind of a window. But you gotta talk to the guy first and see what he's been doing."

If, say, Kimbrel passed the physical and was able to get out to a Cubs minor-league affiliate and throw in a game on Saturday, that would put the three-week mark at June 29. And that's if everything goes smoothly.

So it would be surprising if we see Kimbrel pitching out of the Cubs bullpen anytime before July 1.

As a window into the Cubs' line of thinking on this, look at the Pedro Strop situation last month. Strop was returning from a hamstring injury and insisted he would be ready to rejoin the team without a rehab assignment. But the Cubs sent him to Triple-A Iowa anyways and he actually made three separate appearances there before coming back up to the majors.

The reason for that was simple — the Cubs wanted to ensure Strop was 100 percent before returning and they wanted to see how his body and hamstring responded in the days after appearances. They know they're going to need to lean heavily on Strop in September and October and they don't want to push him now, in late-May/early-June,  and risk reinjury.

The same big-picture thinking applies to Kimbrel, who hasn't thrown in a game since Oct. 27 — Game 4 of the World Series.

"He's an elite talent. I'm sure he's been throwing, throwing live [bullpens], but it's not the same unless you get in the game," veteran reliever Steve Cishek said. "I'm assuming he's gonna have a couple weeks to ramp up and get his arm where it needs to be. In that time, we're just gonna continue to hold down the fort like we've been doing. When he gets here, definitely a big added bonus."

Cishek and other Cubs veteran relievers have acknowledged that it takes about three weeks to get up to speed in spring training. 

So that's the baseline the Cubs are going to try to establish for Kimbrel, who hasn't pitched competitively in a game in seven months. But that's still something they have to discuss with the 31-year-old closer and he can shed more light on what he's been doing during the first couple months of the MLB season.

But at the very least, the Cubs are planning on having Kimbrel ready to go for the entire second half of the season and — they hope — in the playoffs, as well. They also feel there could be a hidden benefit in that Kimbrel may well be fresh come September and October.

There's plenty of reason to take things slow, even amidst a hotly contested NL Central race (the Cubs and Brewers are tied atop the division entering play Friday). The Cubs have eyes on another championship ring and Kimbrel is under contract through at least the 2021 season — the same length of time as Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber, among others. 

"It's just about getting your arm in shape, making sure everything's sharp, but mostly, it's just getting those reps, make sure you don't blow out," Cishek said. "If you try to rush it too quick, that's when things can go wrong. 

"Getting that stamina back up to where it needs to be because when you face hitters, it's way different than throwing a bullpen. Your heart rate's up, you're throwing everything with more intent, so just gotta get back into game shape."

Basket Slam: Wrigley's quirks come to Cubs' aid in walk-off win

Basket Slam: Wrigley's quirks come to Cubs' aid in walk-off win

The Wrigley Field basket has played a huge role in this week's Cubs-Reds series.

In Monday night's game, Cincinnati catcher Curt Casali hit a game-tying homer into the basket in the seventh inning of a game the Cubs went on to lose.

But the basket giveth and the basket also taketh away.

Tuesday night, it was Kyle Schwarber and the Cubs who were singing the praises of one of the strangest ballpark quirks in baseball.

Schwarber connected on a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 10th inning off Reds closer Raisel Iglesias, hitting a fly ball through the impossibly-humid air and into the basket in left-centerfield for a 4-3 Cubs win.

"Whoever thought about that basket — whenever that occurred — tell them, 'thank you,'" Joe Maddon said. "Although it did work against us [Monday]. When it works for you, it's awesome."

Schwarber has stood under the left-field basket many times with his back against the wall, thinking he might be able to make a play on a high fly ball only to see it settle into the wickets and turn into a chance for a Bleacher Bum to show off their arm. 

But is he a huge fan of the basket now that it worked in his favor?

"I guess so," Schwarber laughed. "Yesterday, it cost us, but today, it helped us out. It's just the factor of Wrigley Field. Happy it worked out today."

It was Schwarber's first career walk off RBI of any kind.

It was the Cubs' fourth walk-off homer of the season, but their first since May 11 when Willson Contreras called "game" on the Milwaukee Brewers. 

The Cubs are now 4-1 since the All-Star Break and hold a 2.5-game lead in the division.

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Big changes to the Cubs roster

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Big changes to the Cubs roster

Doug Glanville and Ozzie Guillen join Leila Rahimi on Baseball Night in Chicago to discuss all things baseball.

The talk about the trade that sent Cubs pitcher Mike Montgomery to the Royals in exchange for Martin Maldonado, Willson Contreras' injury that sent him to the injured list and an update on the White Sox roster moves and rebuild status.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below: