‘A better version' of Brandon Kintzler giving Cubs bullpen a boost


The last time Brandon Kintzler gave up a run, it was just a week after Mother's Day.

That May 19 appearance was his third in a row in which he allowed the other team to score, but no one has touched him since, including a scoreless seventh inning in Sunday's win. That lowered his season ERA to 1.91.

He's on fire this season, and Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy credits Kintzler's willingness to embrace some tweaks to his delivery in order to give him better consistency, especially with his release point.

"Release point is the most important thing. We’re trying to simplify everything else so we can get to that more consistently," Hottovy said. "We’re not trying to change who he was, we’re trying to get a better version of himself."

This took some time for Kintzler to embrace, Hottovy said. As a ten year veteran, he was set in his ways to a certain degree. Kintzler was somewhat resistant to making any changes at first, something even he would admit, Hottovy said, and after having some discussions about those changes during the offseason, he came into spring training with still largely the same delivery as he had before. Kintzler began experimenting with what Hottovy was suggesting during spring training, and as he started to see that his velocity and spin rate weren't negatively impacted, he began to buy in. 

"It was really a good job by him to take some of those suggestions that we gave him, but also to buy into them and own it," Hottovy said.

At issue was all that Kintzler was doing with his hands, his leg kick and when he was coming set. In order to get a more consistent release point, Hottovy said that they wanted to clean up his delivery and make it more compact and more athletic. And for this to really set in, Kintzler had to change his approach to his pregame work.

"His routine is diligent, he gets out there every day, does his routine," Hottovy said. "He made that a part of his daily routine, his daily program, and things have just taken off."

The positive impact is undeniable. As a part of keeping runners from scoring, Kintzler's sinker and slider have gotten more consistent drop than in 2018, and both have gone back to being very hard to hit. Last year, batters had little trouble with his sinker, hitting .295 against it, but that's down to .183 this year. And the same has happened with Kintzler's slider. In 2018, it was hit at a .278 clip, and this year, .083. Those are much better numbers than even when he was an All-Star closer with the Twins in 2017. Kintzler is still primarily a sinkerball pitcher, but having a more effective breaking pitch has helped round out his repertoire.

The Cubs signed Craig Kimbrel in early June to cement the back end of the bullpen, but it shouldn't be missed that Kintzler's willingness to adjust that has led to his bounce-back year has also played a key role in getting those much-needed final outs.

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