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Closer Craig Kimbrel to join Cubs’ bullpen Thursday after finishing spring-like program

The Cubs optioned reliever Tony Barnette back to Class AAA Iowa after Wednesday’s loss to make room on the roster. Meanwhile, a decision looms on when promising rookie Adbert Alzolay might make another start.

The Cubs finally have their closer. Now they just have to find a way to make him relevant enough to start making a run in the too-close-for-comfort National League Central.

Three weeks after he signed a free agent contract, seven-time All-Star Craig Kimbrel was added to the Cubs’ bullpen Wednesday night after the Cubs’ 5-3 loss to the Braves – their 10th loss in the last 16 games.

“We know why he’s here. He knows why he’s here,” said outfielder Jason Heyward, who helped recruit his former teammate. “He picked us. We want to make it worth it.”

Kimbrel made four appearances for Class AAA Iowa, including a 1-2-3 ninth inning Tuesday night, in what amounted to a spring training schedule after his long free agency layoff.

Reliever Tony Barnette, who pitched a scoreless inning for the Cubs Wednesday, was optioned to Iowa to make room on the roster.

That move meant that promising rookie starter Adbert Alzolay survived the roster uncertainty, but the Cubs still were not ready to announce when or if he’ll make a second career big-league start next week in Pittsburgh.

If the Cubs drop back to a five-man rotation next time through, that likely would mean a choice between Alzolay and Thursday’s starter, Tyler Chatwood, in Pittsburgh.

What’s certain is that a club without a closer since Brandon Morrow went on the disabled list at the All-Star break last year has a seven-time All-Star closer on deck for a team that has muddled to a 14-19 record over the last five weeks.

“We’ve still got to get to that ninth inning,” said setup man Steve Cishek, who has two of the saves in the Cubs’ six chances in June. “We’re going to be excited to see him pitch. The place is going to be electric when he goes out and throws his first game, especially here at Wrigley. All of that energy is what our team feeds off of.”