Posted on September 5, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine

Chicago Cubs Craig Kimbrel
Image via cbssports.com

In June the Chicago Cubs signed Craig Kimbrel to pitch half a season for them. But as it turns out, he couldn’t even give them that. Kimbrel landed on the 10-day Injured List on Thursday due to inflammation in his elbow. It’s the second time Kimbrel has been sent to the IL since signing with the Cubs and it will limit the impact Kimbrel makes for Chicago heading down the stretch.

Kimbrel last pitched on Sunday when he gave up a three-run home run to Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich. Afterward, he complained of discomfort in his elbow. An MRI came back clean, but the discomfort continued, leading the Cubs to place Kimbrel on the IL. The hope is that this will be a minor setback and Kimbrel will be able to return to action next weekend.

“To be on the cautious side, we had an MRI done and it showed that everything is in place, structurally. He just has a little inflammation in there,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said Thursday. “The elbow MRI was pristine like when we signed him.”

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When the Cubs signed him, the hope was that Kimbrel would solidify their bullpen and give them a proven closer. But it’s not quite worked out as planned. Kimbrel didn’t make his Cubs debut until late June and a little over a month later, he went on the IL with inflammation in his knee. Less than three weeks after returning from that injury, Kimbrel is back on the IL.

When he’s been healthy, the results have been mixed. Kimbrel has converted 13 saves in 15 opportunities this season. But he’s also posted a 5.68 ERA and a WHIP of 1.53 over his 21 appearances. Both are careers highs, as Kimbrel has not quite been himself after sitting out spring training and not signing until over two months into the regular season.

“That narrative makes some sense if you want to sit here and say he didn’t have a normal Spring Training, a normal ramp-up,” Epstein mused. “He’s tried to do something very few guys have done — come in mid-stream, in-season like that and pitch at the end of games. So, I’m not going to sit here and say it has nothing to do with it. It certainly could.”

Despite some uneven results, Kimbrel has served as Chicago’s primary closer when he’s been healthy. Without him, the Cubs have to shuffle things around in their bullpen, not always giving defined roles to pitchers. Pedro Strop and Steve Cishek will likely get any save opportunities while Kimbrel is out. But the Chicago bullpen is much deeper and reliable when they have Kimbrel in the closer’s spot.

Needless to say, the Cubs would prefer their bullpen to be at full strength with just a few weeks left in the season. Currently, the Cubs are trying to catch the Cardinals atop the NL Central. At the same time, there are four teams within striking distance of the Cubs for the second Wild Card spot. The silver lining is that the Cubs expect Kimbrel back in a week or so. However, any time missed could make a difference in the playoff race.

“I still think the story has yet to be written about his contribution this year,” said Epstein. “If this goes according to plan and he feels good and we get him back, he could save a lot of big games for us the rest of this month and, hopefully, next month.”

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