Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel provides welcome relief

Kimbrel’s 368 career saves are the most among active closers, and he’s tied with Jonathan Papelbon for ninth all-time.

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Cubs pitcher Craig Kimbrel delivers during the ninth inning against the Cincinnati Reds on May 28.

Cubs pitcher Craig Kimbrel delivers during the ninth inning against the Cincinnati Reds on May 28.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Among active relievers, no résumé comes close to Craig Kimbrel’s. In the midst of the Cubs’ ups and downs this season, Kimbrel has not only gotten back to a form not seen from him in a few years, he is putting together the best season of his career.

Entering Tuesday, Kimbrel’s ERA (0.59) and WHIP (0.652) were the lowest of his career, edging out previous bests he posted in 2012 with the Braves. His strikeout rate is inching toward 50%, a number he hasn’t touched in close to a decade. And the walks, Kimbrel’s Achilles heel in recent years, are down to 8.8%, his lowest since 2017.

“When you have a guy at the back end that can do what he’s doing, it’s a real treat,” manager David Ross said, “and the reason why we won a lot of our games is because you can set things up from the back.”

Getting Kimbrel back to this point hasn’t been easy, for him or the team. Before the pandemic cut short everyone’s spring training and sent them home for months last season, Kimbrel had a long down period in 2019 because he didn’t sign with the Cubs until June that season.

“I think that year was probably tough on him,” Ross said. “Having that much time off and not getting the contract you want going into the offseason and having to work his way back to what he’s at now and reaping the benefits of that. Super proud of him, super happy for him.”

Kimbrel’s 368 career saves are the most among active closers, and he’s tied with Jonathan Papelbon for ninth all-time. Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen (333) has the next-highest mark among current pitchers.

IL shuffle puts Williams in bullpen

Trevor Williams is back from his bout with appendicitis, but instead of going back into the rotation, he will be the long reliever until at least the All-Star break. Kohl Stewart (elbow) was put on the 10-day injured list Tuesday, necessitating the change for Williams.

“Right now we’re just thin, and he was the guy that’s here,” Ross said.

On Monday, Ross said Williams would throw an “intense bullpen” the next day before he would be activated. But with Stewart going down after that night’s game, the Cubs had to pivot.

“Things changed really fast from plans last night,” Ross said. “So he’s in the bullpen as of right now. We need some length. And if it goes too long, we’ll try to make a plan for him at that point.”

Williams entered in the fourth inning Tuesday. He threw 3⅔ innings, allowing seven runs (three earned) and six hits.

The Cubs also put Eric Sogard (thumb) on the 10-day IL. Ross said Sogard injured his thumb fielding a ball Monday. Sergio Alcantara was recalled from Triple-A Iowa to take Sogard’s place.

Ryan Tepera (calf) threw live batting practice to Patrick Wisdom on Tuesday.

Strange-Gordon gone

ESPN reported that infielder Dee Strange-Gordon has opted out of his deal. Strange-Gordon had signed a minor-league contract with the Cubs on May 26 and was hitting .233/.270/.310 for Triple-A Iowa.

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