With that in mind, could closer Craig Kimbrel be asked to take on a bigger workload in a bullpen that has had some struggles? It's something the team has discussed, and Kimbrel is willing to take the mound for a multi-inning save after finding a better rhythm after not signing with the Cubs until early June, pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said.
"We usually wait a little bit into the season to give them their first one-plus, is what we call it, maybe a possible two innings," Hottovy said on the Mully & Haugh Show on Friday morning. "Moreso because we want them to build their arm strength up out of spring training. We want to make sure they're mechanically where they want to be. Craig, without having a spring training, we kind of had to give him a modified one. I feel like right now, he's finally getting to that point where he feels like he's kind of gotten through that first month of the season. For him, it'd be like end of April/early May kind of shape. That's when we start looking for that type of stuff."
Kimbrel has a 4.22 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in 11 appearances, all of which have been one-inning stints or less. With such pivotal games on tap now, Hottovy indicated he could get extended work. Kimbrel is unscored upon in his past eight appearances.
"We also try to time those kind of things around off days," Hottovy said of a multi-inning load for Kimbrel. "Any time we can have an opportunity with a few off days, we'd be willing to push guys a little bit further. One thing I think Joe (Maddon) and I talk about a lot, though, is the consistency our guys have had in terms of work and clean innings, giving them an opportunity to have that one-inning stint and then be ready the next day, I think, is very important as well. Our guys would say -- and most relievers would -- when you're able to get consistent one-inning stints, you feel like you could almost pitch every single day.
"So picking the right time to do that, knowing that you're probably going to lose him for a day, maybe two -- because of the recovery -- is important. But those are definitely things we've talked about and something that I know Craig would want to do when the time is right. A lot of that would just depend on availability of relievers and where we are in each game."