Cubs will go with Craig Kimbrel in the ninth inning once again

(Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
(Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images) /

As pitchers and catchers get set to begin their first spring training workout, Cubs manager David Ross has named Craig Kimbrel as the team’s closer to start the season.

"‘‘Craig is going to be our closer,’’ Ross said Tuesday. ‘‘He went through a little bit of bumps [in 2020], and he worked his way back into being himself.’’"

Kimbrel’s struggles after joining the Cubs in the middle of the 2019 season carried over last summer. In his first four appearances, Kimbrel allowed seven earned runs on six hits while walking five batters in 2 2/3 innings.

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It looked to be a disastrous season, but to his credit, Kimbrel bounced back and allowed just two earned runs in his final 14 outings. In that span, Kimbrel gave up four hits and struck out 26 batters in 12 2/3 innings.

The strong finish and recent offseason showings have given Ross confidence that Kimbrel can return to his old self as a shutdown closer.

"‘‘Talking to him, he feels great,’’ Ross said. ‘‘This offseason, the work and the videos he sent in, he looks really polished already. He’s a veteran guy, knows how to prepare himself for spring training. We’ll give him a pretty long runway just to get ready. And as long as Craig is who we know he can be, he’s going to be our closer.’’"

Even if it was a small sample size, I think it would be a mistake to write off Kimbrel.

There comes a time in a pitcher’s career where they need to adjust their approach on the mound. At 32- ears old and entering his 12th big league season, Kimbrel cannot afford to get away with making mistakes he would have at his peak performance years.

I think Kimbrel figured out his adjustments last season, and now it’s a matter of sustaining that success. I’m willing to bet he does.

Kimbrel’s involvement in trade rumors is also something to keep an eye on this season. The right-hander will make $16 million in the final year of his contract. This also includes a $16 million team option and a $1 million buyout for 2022.

If the Cubs fall out of contention and Kimbrel is performing well, it’s safe to assume he’ll be traded at the deadline for future assets. There hasn’t been a significant reliever acquisition for the Cubs thus far, so it looks like Ross will have to work with what he currently has.

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If Kimbrel can repeat his success from last season, the Cubs will have one of the best pitchers in the league waiting in their bullpen.