The Cubs have been coy about their timeline for getting Craig Kimbrel ready to pitch in the majors again, but it sounds as though his debut is just around the corner. Kimbrel showed no signs of rust in his first appearance for the Iowa Cubs Tuesday in Sacramento, retiring three opposing batters on just eight pitches. He sat 95-96 with the fastball and had his breaking stuff working as well.
The closer won’t be in action for Iowa Thursday night, but he’ll take the mound Friday and could even pitch Saturday as well. That’s obviously dependent upon whether he feels ready to pitch on back-to-back days, but the ability to do so means there’s nothing left for him to prove at Triple-A. Kimbrel remained active throughout his prolonged free agency and his preparedness was evident in the way he breezed quickly through a pair of bullpen sessions in Mesa.
“I’m ready,” Kimbrel told Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register Thursday afternoon. “I’m ready to do it, but I also have to listen to myself, listen to my body. This isn’t about the next couple of games…This is about after the break and into the postseason.”
He reiterated that it’s all based on how he bounces back from an outing. Kimbrel’s been doing this a long time, cutting it loose every other day or on consecutive days, so what he’s really paying attention to is that physical readiness.
“It’s usually about how I wake up in the morning and then how everything loosens up,” Kimbrel explained. “I kind of have a good gauge of where I need to be. I’ve been pitching long enough. I kind of know where I need to be. I’m just waiting for that day.”
The Cubs have called this process a delayed spring training, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to take Kimbrel a month to prepare. Most closers and established relievers don’t really throw much during the spring anyway, a fact Kimbrel acknowledged Thursday. So, again, it’s about getting into that routine and really getting prepared for the hype of being out there on an major league mound.
That’s really not something anyone can simulate in spring or on a minor-league assignment, since even the most raucous environments there can’t compare to a sold-out Wrigley crowd. Kimbrel thrives on that adrenaline, though, so being able to push it in Iowa means he’ll well prepared to run out from beneath the bleachers.
He isn’t going to speculate publicly, but it sure sounds as though Kimbrel is indeed targeting the upcoming series with the Braves for his return. While a Monday activation might be wishful thinking, don’t be surprised at all by a roster move at some point early next week.