CHICAGO — Does David Ross have his first closer controversy?
Craig Kimbrel’s two rough outings and the shortened 60-game season might leave the new Cubs manager with no choice but to call an early audible.
“That’s a good question,” Ross said Saturday when asked if he would give Kimbrel the ball in a save situation. “I appreciate you asking. I’m not sure on that yet. But I’ll get back to you.”
So is Kimbrel the closer?
“I’m in the middle of conversations with Craig,” Ross said, adding he wanted to “see how his arm feels today, see if he’s available today, and then go from there.”
Kimbrel’s struggles in the early going have mirrored his difficult 23-game stretch last season after signing as a free agent in June without any spring training. On Friday, Kimbrel served up back-to-back home runs to the first two Pirates he faced — Josh Bell and Colin Moran — on consecutive pitches after a near-disastrous outing Monday in Cincinnati in which he issued four walks, hit a batter and threw a wild pitch before being yanked in a save situation.
Jeremy Jeffress converted that save and would be the obvious choice to take over if Ross needs Kimbrel to work out his issues in middle relief. The Cubs signed former closer Cody Allen to a minor league deal Friday but sent him to the taxi squad in South Bend, Ind.
In 22 combined innings since signing a three-year, $43 million deal, Kimbrel has posted a 7.77 ERA and served up 11 home runs with 30 strikeouts, 16 walks and a 9.57 FIP.
But he’s still throwing 98 mph, and Ross said some of Kimbrel’s problems can be fixed.
“There are some mechanical things where we can shore up to where he’s back to hiding the ball a little more, a little bit more deception in his delivery, (like) when he’s right,” Ross said. “Some of the conversations we’ve had, he’s not quite where he’s wants to be in that. He’s kind of in between.”
Ross said the Cubs need Kimbrel to revert to his old form to get where they want to go. Kimbrel has 346 career saves and led the National League in saves four consecutive seasons with the Braves from 2011-14.
“We need him to be good if we’re going to have a lot of success,” Ross said.
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