Craig Kimbrel's progression towards joining the Cubs bullpen took another step in the right direction on Tuesday.
In his first outing with Triple-A Iowa on Tuesday, Kimbrel not only pitched a perfect inning of relief against the Sacramento River Cats, but he needed just eight pitches to do so. Now back in Des Moines as Iowa begins a nine-game homestand, Kimbrel told reporters that he feels great after his first pitching appearance since Oct. 27, 2018 — Game 4 of the 2018 World Series.
“[I] feel great," Kimbrel told reporters in Iowa. "Jumped on a plane yesterday morning and made our way [to Des Moines] and once we got in, [we] kind of assessed how everything felt. Everything feels good, so I’m looking forward to getting back out there Friday."
As he mentioned, Kimbrel's next outing with Iowa will be Friday, when they take on the Round Rock Express. What comes after that is entirely based on how Kimbrel feels, as the Cubs and the 31-year-old have continued to stress patience in his buildup towards big league action.
"We’re just going one appearance at a time, one step at a time," he said. "I’ll throw Friday, see how I feel and then go from there.
"We really haven’t set a time on anything. It's more about how I feel and how I’m recovering. And once I get to feeling great and recovering where I feel like I need to be, I’ll be ready to go."
"He's trending in the right direction," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday evening at Wrigley Field. "Obviously he's feeling good, but we're not gonna rush him or make judgment on any one outing. We're just gonna take this process as we planned it out and try to get him ready for the remainder of the season."
Although he's had a long layoff from MLB action, it's not like Kimbrel has been sitting around at home unprepared. During his extended free agency that leaked into June, he worked out in the gym three times a week in addition to throwing six days a week. And despite pitching deep into October with the Red Sox, Kimbrel started throwing in January in preparation for the 2019 season.
No matter how long the layoff, though, Kimbrel stressed the need to practice patience right now. He's an important piece to the Cubs' championship puzzle, one that will be a valuable weapon in the summer and in the postseason, should the Cubs get there. Right now, it's about getting his body ready, even if he's mentally ready to pitch.
“I’m ready, I’m ready to do it, but also I have to listen to myself, listen to my body," Kimbrel said. "This isn’t about the next couple games before the (All-Star) break, this is about after the break and the postseason."
As if joining a team in the midst of a pennant race wasn't enough, Kimbrel was asked if he is feeling any motivation from the way last postseason went for him individually (5.91 ERA, 10 2/3 innings) and after how long he remained a free agent.
“No, I’m motivated to win. I don’t need to try to make anyone else happy," he said. "Towards the end of last year, we still accomplished what we set to do - win the World Series. [It’s] still a success. I'm not trying to prove anybody wrong. I'm just trying to do my job."Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.
Another MLB team will soon extend the protective netting in its home ballpark.
Thursday, Nationals owner Mark Lerner announced that the Nationals will extend the protective netting at Nationals Park further down the foul lines. The netting will be installed during the All-Star break, according to Lerner's press release.
Ahead of the 2018 season, all 30 MLB teams extended the protective netting in their home ballparks to reach the outfield end of both dugouts. However, the White Sox announced on Tuesday that they will extend netting at Guaranteed Rate Field to reach both foul poles, becoming the first MLB team to do so.
Extended netting has become a widely-discussed topic across baseball this season. In a game between the Cubs and Astros on May 29, a four-year old fan was struck by a foul ball line drive hit by Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. The fan was rushed to the hospital following the incident and players from both teams were visibly shaken afterwards.
Almora spoke out about the need to protect fans several days later.
"I hope this never happens again, so whatever the league has to do to make that happen," Almora said at Busch Stadium on May 31 ahead of a Cubs-Cardinals game. "I don't think any kid that goes to a baseball game with their parents or whoever should worry about making it out unhealthy or whatever the case may be. I don't think that should ever cross their mind.
"Whatever the league needs to do to do that, that should be in place."
Lerner referenced the fan in Houston specifically in the Nationals' announcement on Thursday.
"Over the past few weeks, we have seen several fans injured by bats and balls leaving the field of play at other stadiums," Lerner said. "I could not help but become emotional last month watching the Astros-Cubs game when a four-year-old little girl was hit by a line drive.
"I can’t imagine what her parents must have felt in that moment. And to see the raw emotion and concern from Albert Almora Jr. was heartbreaking. Further extending the netting at Nationals Park will provide additional protection for our fans."
Although only the White Sox and Nationals have announced plans for further extended netting this season, more teams will likely follow suit. In fact, the Rangers will extend the netting at their new ballpark next season to a similar area as the Nationals.