Foresight 2020: Will Craig Kimbrel bounce back with a normal offseason/spring training?
Hindsight is 20/20, they always say. But as the 2020 Cubs season gets underway, we don’t have the benefit of hindsight — foresight is the only option at the moment. So let’s play a game of 20 questions, tackling the most important topics surrounding this Cubs team entering the campaign.
First up: Will Craig Kimbrel bounce back with a normal offseason/spring training?
What a difference a year makes.
Last March, Craig Kimbrel was working out as a free agent, hoping to land somewhere in time for the back end of spring training.
That call didn’t come and he was left working out and throwing on his own in Florida until June, when he signed a three-year deal with the Cubs.
The dominant closer who helped the Red Sox to a 2018 World Series championship was seen as a long-term solution at the back end of the Chicago bullpen. But he struggled in his first season with the Cubs to the tune of a 6.53 ERA, 1.597 WHIP and 3 blown saves.
“Terrible is kind of an understatement for what I felt like I did last year,” Kimbrel said in spring training. “Going into this year, I’m just gonna get back to doing my job, getting on the mound and saving games.”
Part of the struggles stemmed from injuries. Kimbrel went on the injured list twice last season – first in August with right knee inflammation and then in September with right elbow inflammation. He was never able to get into a rhythm after missing spring training and the first couple months of the season.
“It’s just physically and mechanically, I got off at times,” Kimbrel said. “I battled through a few things last year. My goal is to stay healthy and not have to deal with those anymore.”
A full spring training and a healthy Kimbrel could pay huge dividends for the Cubs bullpen.
He’s spent the offseason focusing on his health and reshaped his routine to adapt to his age. In hopes of decreasing the stress on his knees, he biked more and ran less over the winter.
“I stepped back a little bit and just kinda reset,” Kimbrel said. “Take care of the knees and make sure my legs are still strong at the same time. I felt like I’ve been able to do a pretty good job of that.”
He showed some flashes of dominance in his first appearance of the spring on Wednesday. He sat in the 95-96 mph range with his fastball and racked up a pair of strikeouts (including Joey Votto), but also missed on one fastball that Derek Dietrich hit into the right-centerfield bleachers.
There’s no doubt that a full spring training and season with the Cubs will help Kimbrel from a physical standpoint. That could help correct some of the issues that he had last season.
From a mindset standpoint, Kimbrel felt strong even without the results he was anticipating.
“I never run onto the field thinking I’m gonna get beat or thinking I’m gonna give up a run or anything like that,” Kimbrel said. “But too many times, that was the case last year.”
Kimbrel believes he’s moved past that. The Cubs – and the fanbase – are certainly hoping that’s the case.
“A lot of questions will be answered,” Kimbrel said. “But I have no doubt in my mind I’m gonna get on the field and I’m gonna do my job this year and put last year behind us.”
As we approach the start of the regular season, read more on our “Foresight is 2020” series:
–Will Nico Hoerner start the year in the majors?
–How does Jason Kipnis fit into the Cubs mix?
–How will second base shake out?
–Will Jeremy Jeffress regain his 2018 dominance?
–Will Craig Kimbrel bounce back with a normal offseason/spring training?
–Who will emerge in Cubs bullpen?
–Can Kyle Schwarber put it all together after a huge second half?
–What role will Steven Souza Jr. have?
-Will somebody grab the everyday center field role?
-Can Willson Contreras maintain his 2019?