When he wasn’t summoned to try to extend Wenesday’s extra-innings game and Keegan Thompson instead had that opportunity, it was a bit jarring to think about how little Craig Kimbrel has pitched recently. Kimbrel has not entered a Cubs game since May 8, nearly a week ago. And before May 8, he hadn’t pitched since May 5. So just one appearance for Kimbrel in the last nine days.
That kinda sounds bad, but when I run through it day by day, I actually don’t think it’s anything but a coincidence of timing. That is to say, I don’t think Kimbrel has been held out for some mystery reason.
When Kimbrel was “down” on May 7, leaving others to try to salvage that save against the Pirates, it was surprising, since the Cubs had just had an off-day. We freaked a little. In hindsight, it was probably not that big a deal, not only because Kimbrel then did appear on the 8th and looked fine, but also because he’d pitched four out of the first five days of May. Getting back-to-back days off on the 6th and 7th makes plenty of sense in that context.
Moreover, when you go game-by-game since then, it is understandable that we haven’t seen the Cubs closer. In three Cubs losses since that May 8 appearance, there was definitely no reasonable opportunity to use him on May 9 (the game the Cubs were down big early to the Pirates, and then almost came back in the bottom of the 9th). The Cubs also trailed late in the May 11th loss to the Indians, with Brad Wieck and Rex Brothers throwing scoreless 7th and 8th innings (no pitcher was needed in the 9th, because the Cubs lost on the road). No real reason we would’ve seen Kimbrel there.
Then you have Wednesday’s loss, which, I admit, it would’ve been plausible to use Kimbrel there in the 10th inning to extend the game. Whether Kimbrel or someone else, I probably would’ve gone with a strikeout pitcher – rather than Thompson – given the runner on second base, but I don’t want to pick too many nits, because that isn’t my point here. Instead, the point is that many managers just do not like to use their closer on the road in a tie game, since you know for certain you will need at least one more inning after the current inning if you’re going to win. I may or may not agree with that philosophy (it’s more context-dependent for me), but it’s an explanation on why we wouldn’t have seen Kimbrel that has nothing to do with his health.
Then you had yet another off-day yesterday, and today’s game hasn’t happened yet, so suddenly the “pitched once in the last nine days” thing doesn’t really sound that bad. Just kind of an atypical confluence of stuff.
That is all to say: I noticed how little Kimbrel has appeared lately, and for a moment, I started to get concerned. Then I walked through it, and my grain of concern went away. So I figured I’d walk you through it, too, just in case anyone else was wondering like I was.