PITTSBURGH -- Brandon Kintzler thought it was a joke, but for the second year in a row, the right-handed reliever was on the move at the Trade Deadline. On Tuesday, Kintzler was dealt to the Cubs, who were eager to add a reliever with late inning experience.
"I figured it's not April Fool's," said Kintzler, who was acquired from the Nationals. "They called me and I said, 'Am I traded?' They said, 'Yeah.' I thought they were joking. Pretty shocked. But, I get to go to a great situation right now. I've already talked to [the Cubs]. They're excited. You always want to feel wanted wherever you go. They're in a great situation, great team. Obviously played against them last year. They're tough. Go there and help them out."
The Cubs' bullpen has been a workhorse this season, leading the National League in wins and ranking second in ERA, and the team had made it clear they wanted to add more pitching prior to the Deadline. They will send Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach pitcher Jhon Romero to the Nationals in exchange for Kintzler.
Kintzler, who turns 34 on Wednesday, should know the drill well. He was traded one year ago from the Twins to the Nationals for Minor Leaguer Tyler Watson and international bonus money.
"He's a guy we'd talked about in free agency over the winter," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said of Kintzler. "He really fits into what we're trying to do, which is guys who pound the strike zone. We talked about how walks have been an issue in our bullpen and I think he goes a long way in helping that. We think he fits into what we do well."
Last year, Kintzler saved 29 games, 28 of those with the Twins. This season, he has appeared in 45 games with the Nationals, posting a 3.59 ERA over 42 2/3 innings, while striking out 31. Opponents are batting .253 against him this season, including a .208 average by NL Central teams. This month, Kintzler has a 2.03 ERA in 13 games. He has a mutual option for 2019.
"He's not afraid of big moments and it seemed a pretty natural fit in the pennant race," Hoyer said.
"I've always liked him," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Kintzler. "He's a very durable kind of guy. He's a right-hander who gets out lefties also. If you look at his numbers, it looks kind of neutral, and sometimes it's actually better against lefties. He's got good sink, gets the ball on the ground. He's a real durable kind of guy. He's a guy, like [Jesse] Chavez, who you don't want to take advantage of."
The Cubs could use another option at closer with Brandon Morrow sidelined indefinitely because of right biceps inflammation.
"The big thing for me would be to not abuse anybody, spread the work," Maddon said. "This group should permit that. Here comes Brandon back and all of a sudden it gets fun."
Kintzler is the third pitcher the Cubs have picked up since the All-Star break, joining reliever Chavez and starter Cole Hamels, who will make his debut on Wednesday against the Pirates.
"You get Cole, first of all, and then you get these two additions to the bullpen, and they're professional guys, guys who have been through it before, they're not going to be wide-eyed, and they're versatile," Maddon said.
Cubs relievers have combined for a 3.21 ERA and are sixth in the National League in innings pitched (392 2/3 innings). The bullpen has 25 wins, the most in the NL.
The Cubs made it clear that they wanted to add some pitching prior to the non-waiver Trade Deadline and had been linked to other relievers. Chicago has done well with players promoted from Triple-A Iowa, including Anthony Bass, Luke Farrell, and Dillon Maples, but Kintzler provides a more experienced arm for the stretch run.
"I think we addressed what we wanted to address," Hoyer said. "We were pretty clear that we wanted to add pitching and add pitching depth and we did that. We're not done and we'll continue to try to improve the team. Now, it comes down to how we play."
Once again, Kintzler will be busy on his birthday, flying to join a new team.
"Obviously, I loved being here," Kintzler told reporters in Washington. "I picked to come here. Obviously, you know, the situation is different. ... Birthday again tomorrow, so I'm traveling on my birthday. It is what it is. It's part of the business. It's why you show up every day, do your job. Whatever happens, happens."
Romero, 23, was 1-2 with a 3.27 ERA in 32 games with Myrtle Beach, striking out 57 over 44 innings.
Right-hander Justin Hancock was transferred to the 60-day disabled list to make room on the 40-man roster for Kintzler.