(670 The Score) With affirmation from manager David Ross in hand, Craig Kimbrel is ready to return to the Cubs’ closer role and regain his strong form.
Earlier in the week, Ross proclaimed that Kimbrel will return to handling ninth-inning duties after he was a setup man for Jeremy Jeffress for much of the 60-game regular season in 2020. Kimbrel aims to keep up his end of the bargain after he lost the closer's role last season.
“Hopefully I showed from last year that it doesn't matter what role you are in, anything can happen and anyone can have some hiccups,” Kimbrel said of his slow start and strong finish. “With hard work and paying attention to the relationships around, you can get through it. What I got most out of last year was you can make a difference even if you are not the best you want to be. I found you can make a difference for the guys around me by working through different things.”
Kimbrel, 32, allowed seven earned runs in his first four appearances of 2020, which led to him losing the closer’s job. After that, he was unscored upon in 14 of his final 15 appearances of the season, which included one outing in the playoffs. Kimbrel posted a 5.28 ERA and 1.43 WHIP in the 2020 regular season.
"After every season, you assess how you did and how you can improve,” Kimbrel said. “There are certain things you want to tackle. The season last year didn't start off the way any of us wanted it to. I definitely had to put in a lot of work both physically and mentally to get back where I wanted to be. I was able to do that. My goal in the offseason was to maintain where I was mentally at the end of last year.”
By last September, Kimbrel had regained the command of his 96-mph fastball and wipeout slider. Now, he intends to keep it up with a full spring training ahead of get ready after the pandemic interrupted it in 2020.
“We have six weeks here to get ready,” Kimbrel said. “That will be nice. Everything I have done over my career and at the end of spring training is nice. That makes all of us feel comfortable, but at the same time I have to go out there and get ready to do my job and do it the best I can.”
While the Cubs are expected to take a step back competitively after trading ace Yu Darvish to the Padres in a deal with an eye on the future, Kimbrel is confident Chicago can have a strong season. He believes that in part because of the bullpen group that he’s a part of.
"We have a lot of guys with a lot of talent,” Kimbrel said. “We represent a lot of different looks. There are not many guys who throw the same way. We have guys who spin the ball very well. All in all, we have a strong group of guys who can be very successful. We have to go out and do it. At the end of the year, I think we will be talking about a group that got the job done more times than not. That is the goal.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.