Closer Craig Kimbrel made his Cubs debut on Thursday afternoon as manager Joe Maddon called upon him to protect a 9-7 lead in the ninth inning against the Braves. Kimbrel struck out Brian McCann looking and induced a ground out from Johan Camargo for two quick outs. After Ronald Acuña Jr. doubled, Kimbrel walked Dansby Swanson to put the tying run on base. Kimbrel saw his way out of trouble when Freddie Freeman grounded out to Anthony Rizzo down the first base line. Kimbrel was slow to cover the first base bag, so Rizzo had to dive to touch the base before Freeman.
The Cubs and Kimbrel agreed to a three-year, $43 million contract earlier this month. No one bit on Kimbrel as a free agent during the offseason, purportedly due to his struggles during the 2018 postseason with the Red Sox as well as his age and slightly declining velocity. Kimbrel’s first pitch on Thursday registered at 97.6 MPH, according to Statcast. He averaged 96.5 MPH on his fastball overall against the Braves today. That number should rise as he gets some more games under his belt.