Cubs manager David Ross was behind the plate for Craig Kimbrel's Major League debut a decade ago, and it was Ross who caught Kimbrel last year, when his scouting feedback played a role in the Cubs signing the closer to a free-agent contract.
Now it is that rapport and relationship that Kimbrel believes will be crucial in helping him get back on track.
"The communication's been great," Kimbrel said prior to Wednesday's game against the Royals. "Obviously, it's no secret that I've struggled my first couple outings. I started off having problems finding the plate, and then I'm still kind of having a hard time with hard contact and missing bats.
"But the communication between the two of us has been great. I think that's the reason we're going to be able to work through this so well. He still has trust in me. He knows what I can do."
Through three appearances, Kimbrel's results have been disastrous for his pitching line, although not for the team's win-loss record. Kimbrel has recorded five outs while giving up six runs on four hits, including a pair of home runs. He has walked four, hit one batter and thrown a wild pitch. He has just one strikeout.
Pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said on Wednesday that Kimbrel's "stuff is trending in the right direction." For example, Kimbrel has averaged 96.4 mph on his fastball, which is a slight upgrade over '19. In Tuesday's three-batter appearance, Kimbrel flipped a couple of curves in for strikes, setting up a strikeout of Kansas City's Franchy Cordero on a heater.
Still, there are mechanical issues to keep ironing out. Hottovy said that Kimbrel feels like he is rushing down the mound, which is leading to him becoming more "rotational" and affecting his release point. Ross mentioned one result of that sequence has been an inability to hide the ball well.
One statistical piece of evidence to back that up is the fact that opposing batters have yet to swing against the 23 curveballs Kimbrel has thrown this season.
"I'm still confident," Kimbrel said. "I still know I can go out there and get outs. It's just, the bottom line is going out there and doing it. I still think I can do that. I think with the trust that Rossy's put in me so far -- he's stuck with me -- we're going to work through this, and things are going to be all right."
Q to the 'pen? Cubs not ruling it out
Left-hander José Quintana is scheduled to throw a two-inning simulated game on Thursday at the Cubs' alternate training site in South Bend, Ind. Both Ross and Hottovy plan to watch via video conference.
"The goal is getting him stretched out," Hottovy said. "Obviously, we want to see how he recovers, but also, the more we can get him innings, get his pitch count up, the better off we're going to be down the stretch."
Quintana is working his way back from a left thumb injury that helped Alec Mills seize a spot in Chicago's rotation. The starting staff headed into Wednesday's action with a collective 2.01 ERA, so Chicago's evaluators are willing to keep an open mind about how Quintana might fit into the picture.
Hottovy noted that Quintana would likely have at least one more outing after Thursday's workout before the Cubs started weighing their options. That will give the team time to keep monitoring the rotation while looking at the state of the bullpen and upcoming matchups.
"I think we all envision Q as a starter," Hottovy said. "But we also have to evaluate where we are when we feel like he's ready to come up and help us at the Major League level. He's a guy that has always been willing to do whatever we've asked."
• Ross has given infielder Nico Hoerner a few test runs in the outfield, but he handed the rookie a start in center field on Wednesday night in Kansas City. Ross said that he wanted both Hoerner and David Bote (second base) in the lineup, and noted that third-base and outfield coach Will Venable felt Hoerner could handle the spacious outfield at Kauffman Stadium.
"Just going with a little bit outside-of-the-box feel today on that one," Ross said. "I'm trying to fit the guys in the right places that I feel gives us the best lineup and has got a chance to be good defensively. It just kind of lined up. That was one that I stewed over for a little bit, but I'm happy with the way it looks right now."
• Following his seven shutout innings against the Royals on Monday, Mills said his job was "to make it hurt" whenever he faced Kansas City, which traded him to Chicago. He posted a message on Twitter on Wednesday to clarify his comments.
"I am forever thankful for the opportunity the [Royals] gave me," Mills wrote, "and have many lifelong friends and coaches over [there]. I am also thankful for the [Cubs] taking a chance on me and giving me the opportunity to show my former team what I've grown into!"
• The Cubs' July 30 rainout against the Reds is scheduled to be made up as part of a doubleheader on Aug. 29 in Cincinnati. The twin bill is slated to begin at 3:10 p.m. CT, with both games lasting seven innings under MLB's new 2020 guidelines.