Kimbrel 'ahead of the game' in Cubs' first look

June 9th, 2019

CHICAGO -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon joked on Saturday that if anyone heard any loud booms around Wrigley Field, that was probably 's pitches popping into a catcher's mitt. Kidding aside, pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said Kimbrel's first official workout with Chicago was indeed impressive.

"Obviously, elite stuff," Hottovy said prior to Sunday's game against the Cardinals. "This is a guy who's kept himself in shape. He feels good. He feels strong. Bullpen [session]-wise, he was able to do a lot of things you'd expect an elite closer to do. He was throwing strikes, moving his fastball around. And the spin was good.

"So for the first one for us to see, I think he was what we'd consider probably being ahead of the game and ready for the next step."

Kimbrel -- signed to a three-year, $43 million contract on Friday -- worked through a 35-pitch mound session at Wrigley Field on Saturday, showing off his fastball and breaking ball. The Cubs' new closer is now off to Arizona to begin building up to game readiness. That process could take two to three weeks, though the Cubs have not announced an official timeline.

Hottovy said the current plan calls for one more bullpen session in Arizona, with the goal of having Kimbrel start facing live hitters by the end of the upcoming week.

"He'll throw another bullpen, and then we'll see where he's at," Hottovy said. "Obviously, when you add somebody of that caliber, what it does for our entire staff is it gives us confidence and helps lengthen what we consider to already be a deep group of guys. We're excited to have him. We're excited to get him out there. But we also know that there's a process to get him back, and we'll do it the right way. We'll make sure he's ready to go by the time he gets here."

Hottovy did not delve into specifics, but he said Kimbrel's pitch velocity and movement looked good for what would be considered similar to the first mound session of Spring Training.

"Because he's had a lot of time off and has been throwing, he's strong. The velo and stuff is there," Hottovy said. "It's more about a consistent arm stroke, consistent release points, consistent mechanics, because that all comes with that repetition."

Pitch, Hit & Run winners
Major League Baseball and the Cubs hosted the annual MLB Pitch, Hit & Run competition at Wrigley Field on Sunday and honored several youngsters who won their respective divisions.

Pitch, Hit & Run is MLB's official youth skills competition. The top 12 baseball and top 12 softball qualifiers from Illinois, Indiana and Iowa competed in Chicago with hopes of advancing to the national finals during 2019 MLB All-Star Week in Cleveland.

The winners:
The 7- and 8-year-old Softball Division: Clare Kyle of Evergreen, Ill.
The 7- and 8-year-old Baseball Division: Colin Kluesner of Farley, Iowa
The 9- and 10-year-old Softball Division: Reese Queensland of Antioch, Ill.
The 9- and 10-year-old Baseball Division: Evan Hefel of Dubuque, Iowa
The 11- and 12-year-old Softball Division: Lorelei Monk of Chicago
The 11- and 12-year-old Baseball Division: Adrien Rivera of River Grove, Ill.
The 13- and 14-year-old Softball Division: Katelyn Dahl of Des Plaines, Ill.
The 13- and 14-year-old Baseball Division: Jace Armbruster of Maquoketa, Iowa

Worth noting
• Left-hander Kyle Ryan entered Sunday with a 27.4 percent strikeout rate (first among Cubs relievers with at least 20 innings) and a 49.2 percent ground-ball rate. Ryan has endured his share of ups and downs this year, but Maddon believes that the lefty's numbers can improve with more specific matchup-based use.

Maddon said the seventh inning on Saturday was a good example. Ryan faced the 8-9-1 hitters in the Cardinals' lineup and came away with two strikeouts and one groundout.

"That was exactly his slot," Maddon said. "When you put him on the right guys, he's capable of doing that. If you have to stretch him through parts of a lineup or even multiple innings, in that situation, he probably feels like he has to make more pitches, and he comes out of his normal patterns maybe. But when you just pop him where he needs to be, he'll be very effective."

• Addison Russell remained out of the starting lineup on Sunday, but Maddon said the infielder is "good to go" after dealing with a bruised right hand last week. Russell has not started since Tuesday, but he pinch-hit and played the final two innings of Saturday's win over St. Louis.

• Left-hander Xavier Cedeno, who is on the 10-day injured list due to a left wrist issue, was scheduled to begin a Minor League rehab assignment with Triple-A Iowa on Sunday.