In a surprise move before yesterday’s game, the Cubs placed closer Craig Kimbrel on the Injured List with elbow inflammation. Given that the IL is unnecessary in September, given expanded rosters, the Cubs would have done that only if they knew for sure Kimbrel wouldn’t be back before the stint was up (next Thursday). The side bonus of being able to bring back David Bote early is nice, sure, but rosters are so loaded right now that you’re not going to sacrifice your closer for a few extra games of a bench bat.
In other words, it’s a legit shutdown injury. Maybe not serious, but serious enough.
Here’s how Theo Epstein described it:
Theo on Kimbrel pic.twitter.com/2j3oTCd3XQ
— Mark Gonzales (@MDGonzales) September 5, 2019
Maybe the knee injury from which Kimbrel only recently came back wound up hurting the elbow, which was not in its usual place because of the erratic ramp up? The velocity has certainly been all over the place, and overall not nearly as high as it was at this time last year:
Kimbrel's avg FB velo was up after initial return from early-Aug knee issue. But dropped again Sunday, when he reported elbow discomfort.
Theo: "Sometimes when you have a lower body injury, you come back from that and, full exertion, sometimes you can compensate in other areas." pic.twitter.com/TpJBifMcTx
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 5, 2019
So the odd offseason, the late ramp-up, the injuries … all related?
“We’ll never know,” Theo Epstein said, per NBCSportsChicago. “That narrative makes some sense. He’s tried to do something very few guys have done — come in mid-season like that and pitch at the end of games. So I’m not gonna sit here and say it has nothing to do with it. It certainly could. And then sometimes when you have a lower body injury, you come back from that and full exertion, you can compensate in other areas. He is trying to do something that very few guys have ever done and I think he’ll be better next year when he’s got a full ramp-up.”
I don’t think that’s just uniformed optimism there, as I mostly feel like Kimbrel will probably be fine next year, too. And that’s good.
But with yet another injury to deal with late in the year – and the elbow no less – it’s going to be hard to have confidence that Kimbrel will be a shutdown arm for the Cubs in the second half of September, much less the postseason, when you’d really love to be able to let a guy like Kimbrel eat.
Epstein sounded optimistic that Kimbrel would be all right ultimately, and that he’s still structurally sound in the arm. But there will likely be only about 16 games left in the regular season when Kimbrel returns, which means not a lot of time to make an impact even if he’s fully healthy. Then, who knows what he’ll be in the postseason.
I guess my point here is only that it’s fine to hope Kimbrel comes back fine and is ready to cruise into the postseason (I suppose you could hope on Pedro Strop for that, too, if you were REALLY optimistic), but the Cubs had better be making it a priority to get really comfortable with other late-inning options in the interim. Mix-and-match can cover you for a while, but it doesn’t seem to play as well in the postseason, when the most successful teams seem to have their very best short-burst arms carrying them every game. Moreover, while I like the Wick-Cishek-Kintzler-Ryan group of arms, it just feels like they could use another big strikeout arm in that group.
Perhaps that is why a big-time arm like Brad Wieck is getting a lot of opportunities? How about giving Duane Underwood some more looks, too? And if he’s not being held for a start, what about Adbert Alzolay in relief?