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Kimbrel doesn't miss a beat in 1st Triple-A outing

@MLBastian
June 18, 2019

CHICAGO -- One of the challenges that big leaguers face during Minor League assignments is the aggressive approach hitters adopt against them. Setup man Pedro Strop experienced it earlier this season. Closer Craig Kimbrel got a taste of it during a successful eight-pitch appearance for Triple-A Iowa on Tuesday. "We

CHICAGO -- One of the challenges that big leaguers face during Minor League assignments is the aggressive approach hitters adopt against them. Setup man Pedro Strop experienced it earlier this season. Closer Craig Kimbrel got a taste of it during a successful eight-pitch appearance for Triple-A Iowa on Tuesday.

"We couldn't get Stropy to throw more than, like, seven pitches. It's insane," pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said with a laugh. "They want to swing. They don't want to get to two strikes against these guys. That's the toughest part, when you have these elite bullpen guys going in Minor League games."

Kimbrel's outing on Tuesday was his first game action since he signed a three-year, $43 million free-agent contract with the Cubs on June 7. He fired eight strikes, ending with a flyout, a groundout and a swinging strikeout in the quick inning against Sacramento. He was sitting around 95-96 mph with his fastball and recorded the punchout via a curveball.

According to general manager Jed Hoyer, Kimbrel's next appearance will fall on Thursday or Friday. The timetable for him joining Chicago's bullpen remains undetermined.

"Things are trending in the right direction, obviously," Hoyer said. "He's felt good, but we're not going to rush to judgment on any one outing. We're just going to try to take this process as we planned it out and try to get him ready for the length of the season."

Manager Joe Maddon was just thrilled that Kimbrel got through his initial outing with no issues.

"I heard that he did really well," Maddon said. "The break on the breaking ball was there. The velocity on the breaking ball was very good. So, again, I don't get too worked up about that stuff. It's just about health. If the guy's healthy and he's ready to rock and roll, you put him in the ninth inning. That's pretty much what we're looking forward to."

Chatwood to start on Thursday

Kyle Hendricks underwent additional testing on his right shoulder after the team returned to Chicago, and Hoyer noted that an MRI showed an impingement. Hoyer reiterated that Chicago will take a conservative approach to Hendricks' return from the injured list, given his importance to the rotation.

"I feel like we got ahead of it," Hoyer said. "We're not sure how much time he'll miss, but we'll try to take it slow and take the length of the season into account. ... We know how impactful he is when he's right, and we want to get it right. And if that means patience, then we'll exercise patience."

With Hendricks out for the time being, the Cubs will hand the ball to right-hander Tyler Chatwood for Thursday's start against the Mets. Both Maddon and Hottovy emphasized that Chatwood earned the assignment.

"Everything we've asked him to do, he's done," Hottovy said. "Spot start. Relieve. Extra-inning stints. Multiple-inning stints. He's earned the right to have an opportunity."

Hottovy said it would be a "start and then evaluate" situation for that rotation spot until Hendricks' return.

"It's gratifying," Chatwood said. "I feel like I've thrown the ball pretty well, so to give me this opportunity, I'm very excited for it. I look forward to Thursday."

Alzolay coming soon?

Hottovy added that the decision to go with Chatwood on Thursday does not necessarily close the book on potentially seeing pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay (Chicago's No. 4 prospect, per MLB Pipeline) with the Cubs in the near future.

Beginning with Tuesday's opener with the White Sox, the Cubs play 17 games before their next off-day. Hottovy said the team may look to mix in a spot starter somewhere during that stretch to give the other veteran arms an extra day of rest. That could create an opening for the 24-year-old Alzolay, who has a 1.93 ERA, 40 strikeouts and three walks in his last five starts (28 innings) for Triple-A Iowa.

"Any time a guy's pitching well in Triple-A, you want to try to find a way to get him in there," Hottovy said. "For him to have that opportunity would be awesome -- when that time comes. And he's earned it. He's battled and he's battled through a lot of stuff. So it'd be really cool."

Worth noting

• Hoyer noted that sidelined closer Brandon Morrow (60-day IL, right elbow) has built up to about 130 feet in the long-toss portion of his throwing program. There remains no timetable for Morrow's return, which Hoyer said would be considered an "incredible bonus" if it comes to fruition.

"With Brandon, we've been down this road a few times," Hoyer said, "where he feels good and then he has a setback. So I don't want to be over-optimistic, and I don't want to be pessimistic. It's just, this is where he is."

• Catcher Victor Caratini got the start on Tuesday night against the White Sox, his third straight pairing with veteran lefty Cole Hamels. Maddon said he likes that tandem (2.42 ERA through 26 innings in '19), but noted that the lineup decision was part of mapping out Willson Contreras' starts over the rest of the week.

• Right-hander Carl Edwards Jr. received a cortisone shot to help address the left thoracic strain (back) that landed him on the 10-day injured list on June 13 (retroactive to June 10). He is first eligible for activation on Thursday.

• Per MLB.com's Jim Callis, the Cubs have agreed to terms with second-round Draft pick Chase Strumpf. The UCLA second baseman signed for $1,050,300 (full slot value).

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.