Why Cubs backup closer role could be Workman in progress


MESA, Ariz. — Craig Kimbrel’s the Cubs’ closer, dammit.

How many times does the manager have to say it?

In fact, he did it again Sunday: “I think I’ve made it evident that Craig will be the closer. As long as he’s healthy we’ll go into the season with Craig Kimbrel as the closer,” David Ross said.

If you don’t believe Ross, believe the 16 million other reasons the Cubs are sending to Kimbrel’s bank account this year.

But once the season starts, then what?

It took Kimbrel three outings to lose the job last season.

And have you seen his spring so far?

Here’s how the 16 batters he has faced in three outings have fared: strikeout, single, hit batter, double, single, single, home run, grounder to pitcher, line out to center, line out to third, grounder to second, walk, single, popup, walk, triple.

Don’t bother trying to figure out the ERA. Because one of the innings was “rolled” with one out (ended by Ross because of pitch limit), Kimbrel gets credit for two outs he didn’t record, which makes his official spring ERA 10 runs better than his actual performance.

Take that for what it’s worth, considering it’s spring.

However,  as little as spring training means as a predictor for the regular season, consider whether that’s actually less of a predictor than much of the struggling Kimbrel has done during the last two summers with the Cubs.

And then consider the next obvious question:

Who’s the backup closer? That eighth-inning guy who would fill in? (And, no, Jeremy Jeffress isn’t coming to the rescue this time.)

“There are a lot of guys that are stepping into that role,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said.


“I just feel real confident in like seven or eight guys in that group fighting for that job,” Hottovy said.

Translation: With barely two weeks left of camp, the Cubs don’t have an eighth-inning guy.

Rowan Wick, the 2019 success story with closer stuff, has just begun throwing long-toss after finally healing from a long-term oblique injury and has no timetable for starting to throw bullpen sessions — much less when he’ll be ready to rejoin the club after the season starts.

Ryan Tepera signed late. Kyle Ryan got a late start because of COVID-19 intake protocols. Pedro Strop is behind because he missed a few days for violating COVID-19 protocols. Etcetera.

And then there’s Brandon Workman, a dominant late-inning man for the Red Sox as recently as 2019, who struggled with two teams in last year’s short, strange pandemic season.

“The thing with past performances, that can work both ways,” Ross said. “It can really push guys to have a chip on their shoulder and come out and just be dominant and focused, or it can create a little bit of anxiety of failure, and when things do go wrong you kind of snowball into that.

“I think Work is a guy that’s really mentally tough on that, and I think he’s got a really good chip on his shoulder to go out and be good.”

Workman pitched out of a two-out, two-on jam in the seventh inning of a scoreless game against the Angels on Sunday. Of course, he pitched into the jam first.

But his stuff looked good Sunday, and he hasn’t allowed an earned run in four outings this spring.

So maybe there’s your Jeffress for 2021.

“That’s a name that’s definitely in the mix,” Hottovy said.

Whether that’s the answer?

“We’ve got a lot of faith in a lot of guys out there,” Hottovy said.


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