MESA, Ariz. -- As Craig Kimbrel's performance crumbled and injury woes persisted last year, the easy explanation was that his awkward, disjointed season was the root of his problems. The Cubs began pinning their hopes for a productive 2020 for the closer on a regular winter and routine spring.
On Thursday, following a workout at Chicago's Arizona headquarters, Kimbrel was asked if he believes that remains the solution.
"We'll see," Kimbrel said. "Terrible is kind of an understatement for what I felt like I did last year. Going into this year, I just need to get back to doing my job, getting on the mound and saving games. Time will tell. A lot of questions will be answered.
"But, I have no doubt in my mind that I'm going to get on the field and I'm going to do my job this year and put last year behind us."
Kimbrel went unsigned during the winter prior to last season and did not pen his name on a contract until June 7, when the Cubs finalized a three-year, $43 million pact with the closer. He went through a three-week buildup in the Minor Leagues and made his Cubs debut June 27. What followed was a 6.53 ERA, health trouble and a career-high nine homers allowed in 23 outings.
"That's why we have Spring Training," Cubs starter Jon Lester said. "I don't care how many bullpens he threw, how many BPs, this, that and the other. Technically, his Spring Training went from six weeks, seven weeks, to 10 days. I mean, I tip my hat for what he was able to do for us. I'm excited for him."
Kimbrel said Thursday that the right knee issue that flared late in the season was the most troublesome, leading to mechanical issues and missed location on pitches. Over the offseason, he altered his training program to account for that setback and to put himself in a better position to hit the ground running this spring.
"I stepped back a little bit and kind of reset," Kimbrel said. "Just listened to my body. I'm getting older, so obviously you have to change a few things. Run a little less. Bike a little more. Take care of the knees and make sure my legs are still strong, at the same time. I feel like I'm doing a pretty good job of that."
Lester, Ross dynamic
No catcher has caught more of Lester's career innings than new Cubs manager David Ross. They were teammates and remain friends, but the dynamic has been altered with Ross in charge. That will include heading to the mound to pry the baseball out of Lester's hand.
"I don't know if you guys know this," Lester said, "but he took me out of games plenty of times when I was pitching. So, this won't be anything new. I laughed when I saw it for the first time about somebody said this is going to be interesting, with Rossy taking me out of a game. I've never disrespected my manager, regardless of who it is and regardless of my relationship with that individual.
"He's my boss. Is that weird? Yes, but he's my boss."
Ross echoed that nothing has really changed between them.
"We've got a tight relationship," Ross said. "I would say I'm almost too honest with him -- if that can be a thing -- of what I expect out of him and where I think he is. He's in a good place and I'm proud of him and I'm happy with where he's at and excited."
• Lester said his goal for the upcoming season is to log 200 innings, which he has done eight times in his 14-year career, but not since 2016. If Lester were to reach that figure, his $25 million option for '21 would vest. Otherwise, that would be a team option (with a $10 million buyout).
"Hopefully I have a good year," Lester said. "If I don't, I'm sure we'll sit down. But, like I said, I'm worried about this year and I think when it's all said and done, you probably won't know it's all said and done. I probably just won't show up for Spring Training the next year."
• Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. said he needed time to "disconnect" over the offseason following the worst season of his career (.236 average, .651 OPS and 64 wRC+). Then, Almora got to work on some swing changes related to his timing at the plate. The outfielder did not delve into the specifics.
"I made adjustments that you guys will see in the game. It's visibly different, I think," Almora said. "I'm going to face pitching now. Everything's going to come together, but it was more the mindset. It was more the mental part of the approach and stuff like that. I feel like that'll be a big difference."
"It's funny how different people in the locker room have said hi to him the first time seeing him. Some of them, it's like seeing an old friend and they just kind of push him around and say whatever. And other people, it's like, 'Oh, Mr. Ross. It's nice to meet you.'" -- Nico Hoerner