Closer Craig Kimbrel looks ready to join the Cubs’ bullpen by Thursday’s series finale against the Braves or Friday’s series opener in Cincinnati.
The seven-time All-Star struck out two in a 1-2-3 ninth inning at Class AAA Iowa on Tuesday night in what was expected to be his final appearance during what has been a spring-like preparation since signing a free agent contract three weeks ago.
“He threw well,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after getting reports of the 16-pitch outing Tuesday night. “We’ll discuss that, see how he comes out of it and then we’ll talk to him and make our decisions.”
Kimbrel, whose fastball reached 95 mph Tuesday, had made three previous appearances for the I-Cubs, including back-to-back games Saturday and Sunday. He allowed only two hits in the four total appearances, including a solo homer for the one run he allowed (with four strikeouts and a walk).
Maddon said he doesn’t plan to use Kimbrel for more than three-out save situations until at least the end of the season in games with more direct playoff implications.
“As he gets here he’ll be slotted and really carefully,” said Maddon, adding that even in September he hoped to avoid more than a four-out save try with the $43 million closer. “I also believe this bullpen with the experience we’ve gotten to this point should permit us to avoid that by being able to absorb the eighth inning well.”