Explaining Brandon Kintzler's struggles and why the Cubs won't give up on him


WASHINGTON — #CubsTwitter is not a place you want to be right now when Joe Maddon calls on Brandon Kintzler out of the bullpen.

You can't blame Cubs fans for expressing frustration over Kintzler, given that the veteran reliever has surrendered runs in five of his last six appearances and has an 8.49 ERA in 16 outings with the Cubs since being acquired from the Washington Nationals prior to the non-waiver trade deadline.

But the last few weeks is not indicative of the pitcher Kintzler has been in his career. He knows it. Maddon knows it. The Cubs clubhouse and front office know it. 

"Kintzler has the capabilities of being very important to us based on his past and what he's capable of in high-leverage situations, etc. But we gotta get more there," Maddon said after Tuesday night's loss in Milwaukee where Kintzler came into the game with the Cubs trailing 2-1 in the fifth inning and promptly gave up a leadoff double to Lorenzo Cain, who came around to score two batters later. 

Maddon admitted the Cubs melted down pitching-wise in Tuesday night's 11-1 loss, but looking at the group of pitchers he called on after starter Mike Montgomery, it's not that worrisome moving forward. Jorge De La Rosa, Dillon Maples, Brian Duensing and James Norwood all have low chances of cracking the Cubs' postseason bullpen. 

But Kintzler — that's a different story. Especially with Brandon Morrow's future in doubt and the Cubs in need of another reliable reliever for the rest of this month and into October.

"Kintzler is the guy that would be really nice to get him back on his feet," Maddon said Tuesday, again reiterating the value Kintzler holds.

This is not a young pitcher trying to make it in the big leagues. 

Kintzler is 34, in his ninth season in the majors and posted a 3.16 ERA in 291 games from 2011-17 as part of the Brewers, Twins and Nationals bullpens. He's even spent time as a closer, racking up 46 saves between 2016-17 and closed out two games for the Nats earlier this year.

So what's going on? Why hasn't he had the same level of success with the Cubs?

"I feel like when I came over, I tried to be perfect," Kintzler said. "And usually I'm more of a guy that is in full-on attack mode."

At first, Cubs fans saw that "attack mode" Kintzler. He didn't allow a run in his first four appearances after the trade from Washington, giving up just a walk and a pair of hits in 3.2 innings.

But then his former team came to town.

When the Nationals strolled into Wrigley Field, Kintzler was called upon to pitch the eighth inning of the first game of that series. He responded by walking the only two hitters he faced. 

Maddon went to Kintzler again in the final game of that series, and the end result was not pretty — 2 earned runs on 2 hits and 2 walks in just one-third of an inning.

That's where the wheels came off. Since his first pitch against his former teammates, Kintzler has surrendered 11 runs on 19 hits and 5 walks in only 8 innings.

"I think for a little bit, especially after facing the Nats — when you know so much information about a hitter it gets into your head, so you get a little mental when you're out there and you're trying to be perfect," Kintzler said. "I think I got caught being too perfect and all of a sudden making a mechanical adjustment thinking there was something wrong with me.

"So that's how I got mechanically out of whack and then mentally, not in a good place, so it's just - get back to doing what I do and that's being in full-on attack mode."

Kintzler said this is the toughest stretch of his career and is disappointed it had to come in the middle of a pennant race on a new team with a new group of teammates and a new fanbase.

But even for a guy who's thrown more than 600 professional innings and obviously has the talent to be successful, it's still tough to get over a slump psychologically.

"Oh, it's a snowball effect," Kintzler admitted. "Because mental-wise, the next thing you know, you're out there and you think about mechanics and your body becomes very, very slow and robotic. Mentally, before you pitch, you're trying to figure out - what do I move first? 

"You kinda forget what you're supposed to do instead of just using your natural athletic ability. If you let the mechanic stuff get ahold of you, it's definitely a long road back sometimes."

That's what Kintzler is working through right now, but he and the Cubs are positive good times lie ahead.

Maybe if Kintzler got off track while facing his former team, he can also stop his slide while facing the Nats as the Cubs open a four-game series in D.C. Thursday night?

Maddon pointed to some tough luck for the veteran right-hander on the last homestand, when Kintzler gave up 6 hits to the Mets in only 1.2 innings in back-to-back games. But most of those hits were seeing-eye groundballs barely past an infielder or bloop hits just out of the reach of the Cubs outfielders.

But Kintzler feels like he's getting closer to being more locked in after allowing a pair of homers in an outing Aug. 25 against the Reds — a startling sign for a guy whose main asset is keeping the ball in the yard and on the ground.

What has him feeling positive moving forward?

"The swings that I'm looking at — the action," Kintzler said. "I mean, I've given up some really bad infield hits and bloopers — stuff you can't control. Which, as a groundball/contact guy, that's gonna happen. So I could roll with that.

"It gets frustrating because you want to have success. It's the home runs — I don't give up home runs. So that kinda wears on me a little bit. Has me start thinking mechanical. But in the end, it's really not just mechanical, it's more of the mental side and being who you are instead of trying to be perfect.

"I've always had success of just seeing the glove and doing what I do instead of trying to be perfect, so that's what happens."

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