Brandon Kintzler

Cubs could get another bullpen boost soon as Carl Edwards Jr. nears return

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USA TODAY

Cubs could get another bullpen boost soon as Carl Edwards Jr. nears return

Cole Hamels is still likely more than a week away from returning, but the Cubs could get another arm back soon to help augment the pitching staff.

Carl Edwards Jr. threw another outing Tuesday night with Triple-A Iowa, his fourth appearance on this latest rehab assignment while recovering from a left thoracic strain. 

The 27-year-old righty allowed two hits and a walk in a scoreless inning, notching all three outs on strikeouts. He also pitched Saturday and on July 1st and 4th before Iowa also hit their midseason break. He last pitched in the big leagues on June 9.

"CJ's progressing well," Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. "He's feeling better every time out. Good CJ stuff [Tuesday] — fastball's got some carry, some cut to it. He's feeling good."

As for what comes next, the Cubs don't have a plan in place yet. That will depend on how Edwards continues to feel after his latest outing.

"The one thing with him has been the rebound," Hottovy said. "We talk about the recovery that next day, he's had a couple days where he's like, 'yeah I feel good.' And a couple days where it's like, 'ah, I need another day.' 

"So that's always a thing you want to do with relievers is make sure their recovery and their rebound is there. The last thing you want to do have a guy come up and he pitches and then you can't use him for 2 or 3 days. We just gotta make sure we hit all those checkpoints as well."

Edwards got off to a rough start and struggled toward the end of the 2018 season, but he's a huge piece to the Cubs bullpen puzzle and he was dynamic upon his return from minor-league demotion earlier this year.

From his first outing after being called back up (May 6) until the injury hit (June 9), Edwards surrendered only 3 earned runs on 4 hits and 3 walks against 15 strikeouts in 13.1 innings — good for a 2.03 ERA and 0.525 WHIP.

As the Cubs look to bolster their bullpen ahead of the MLB trade deadline in two weeks, Edwards looms as another addition given his ability to neutralize both right-handed and left-handed hitters and induce weak contact when he's on.

Of course, there's obviously some inherent risk in counting on Edwards to be a reliable piece of the bullpen given the way the last couple years have gone. But if he's healthy and pitching the way he had for a full month before the injury, that's a nice option the Cubs can fold into their bullpen alongside Craig Kimbrel, Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler and Kyle Ryan.

'A better version' of Brandon Kintzler giving Cubs bullpen a boost

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USA TODAY

'A better version' of Brandon Kintzler giving Cubs bullpen a boost

The last time Brandon Kintzler gave up a run, it was just a week after Mother's Day.

That May 19 appearance was his third in a row in which he allowed the other team to score, but no one has touched him since, including a scoreless seventh inning in Sunday's win. That lowered his season ERA to 1.91.

He's on fire this season, and Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy credits Kintzler's willingness to embrace some tweaks to his delivery in order to give him better consistency, especially with his release point.

"Release point is the most important thing. We’re trying to simplify everything else so we can get to that more consistently," Hottovy said. "We’re not trying to change who he was, we’re trying to get a better version of himself."

This took some time for Kintzler to embrace, Hottovy said. As a ten year veteran, he was set in his ways to a certain degree. Kintzler was somewhat resistant to making any changes at first, something even he would admit, Hottovy said, and after having some discussions about those changes during the offseason, he came into spring training with still largely the same delivery as he had before. Kintzler began experimenting with what Hottovy was suggesting during spring training, and as he started to see that his velocity and spin rate weren't negatively impacted, he began to buy in. 

"It was really a good job by him to take some of those suggestions that we gave him, but also to buy into them and own it," Hottovy said.

At issue was all that Kintzler was doing with his hands, his leg kick and when he was coming set. In order to get a more consistent release point, Hottovy said that they wanted to clean up his delivery and make it more compact and more athletic. And for this to really set in, Kintzler had to change his approach to his pregame work.

"His routine is diligent, he gets out there every day, does his routine," Hottovy said. "He made that a part of his daily routine, his daily program, and things have just taken off."

The positive impact is undeniable. As a part of keeping runners from scoring, Kintzler's sinker and slider have gotten more consistent drop than in 2018, and both have gone back to being very hard to hit. Last year, batters had little trouble with his sinker, hitting .295 against it, but that's down to .183 this year. And the same has happened with Kintzler's slider. In 2018, it was hit at a .278 clip, and this year, .083. Those are much better numbers than even when he was an All-Star closer with the Twins in 2017. Kintzler is still primarily a sinkerball pitcher, but having a more effective breaking pitch has helped round out his repertoire.

The Cubs signed Craig Kimbrel in early June to cement the back end of the bullpen, but it shouldn't be missed that Kintzler's willingness to adjust that has led to his bounce-back year has also played a key role in getting those much-needed final outs.

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Cubs Talk Podcast: Prank wars and life as a reliever with Brandon Kintzler

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Prank wars and life as a reliever with Brandon Kintzler

Kelly Crull sits down with Cubs reliever Brandon Kintzler, and the veteran right-hander covers many topics, including his ongoing prank war with fellow reliever Steve Cishek (2:50), his growing role as a leader and mentor inside the clubhouse (4:00), and Tommy Hottovy's impact on the pitching staff so far (10:30).

Listen to the entire podcast here or in the embedded player below.

Cubs Talk Podcast

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