Cubs aren’t worried about Craig Kimbrel after rocky first outing

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

I’m not sure what it would take for any member of the Chicago Cubs organization to admit they have concerns about Craig Kimbrel. They’ve unfailingly had his back over the years, despite the last two seasons registering as the worst of the potential Hall of Famer’s career.

In his first Cactus League action of the spring on Friday, the veteran closer got torched for four runs on four hits against Cleveland, which wasn’t exactly the result he or the team was hoping for. As we all know, Kimbrel finished 2020 strong – but has been wildly inconsistent with Chicago and about as far from a sure thing as humanly possible.

"“It looked like just a little bit of rust. He felt good,” Cubs skipper David Ross said. “The ball was coming out good. It didn’t look like he was laboring at all.”"

To Ross’ point, Kimbrel’s velocity looked good. He sat in the mid-90s with his fastball, which is a good sign given his issues on that front in a Cubs uniform. Over the next few weeks, he’ll need to lock in with his curveball because without it, hitters are going to hit off his fastball. And we’ve seen how that looks.

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Like I said, this was the right-hander’s first in-game action of the spring. And just like we shouldn’t overreact to Jake Arrieta tossing two scoreless frames on Sunday, we should start slamming the panic button over a rocky outing from Kimbrel.

Cubs need Craig Kimbrel to succeed

But as we move deeper into Cactus League action and draw closer to Opening Day, the Cubs have to be honest with themselves when it comes to Kimbrel. I know Jed Hoyer would love nothing more than a shutdown first half from the seven-time All-Star so he could potentially trade him this summer, but that’s no guarantee.

We know Ross is going to enter 2021 with Kimbrel installed in the closer’s role once again. Now, we’ve seen him fall in and out of this role over the last two years, so nothing is set in stone. But if Kimbrel is once again ineffective, Chicago needs to be quick to make a change.

The margin for error this year, while larger than it was in last season’s 60-game sprint, is still quite small. On paper, at least, the Cubs are probably the second-best team in the NL Central. If they want to make it back-to-back division titles, squandering leads in the ninth inning isn’t going to play, regardless of how badly we all want to see Kimbrel find success.

Next. Pedro Strop knows better than to act like this. dark

Hoyer spent all offseason assembling a deep group of arms to compete for innings in the bullpen and several of them have ninth-inning experience. Should Kimbrel fail to re-establish his secondary pitches this spring, the Cubs’ brass should have a long conversation about the ninth inning duties before the season starts.