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.
Robert Murray and MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported earlier, respectively, that the Phillies signed pitcher Francisco Liriano and infielder Neil Walker to minor league contracts. If he makes the major league roster, Liriano will earn a salary of $1.5 million with an additional $1.25 million available through performance incentives. Walker’s contract information is not yet known.
Liriano, 36, struggled from 2016-18 but enjoyed a productive year out of the bullpen for the Pirates this past season. He posted a 3.47 ERA with 63 strikeouts and 35 walks over 70 innings. The lefty was quite effective against same-handed batters, limiting fellow lefties to a .659 OPS. That would figure to be a key component if Liriano makes the Phillies’ Opening Day roster.
Walker, 34, hit .261/.344/.395 with eight home runs and 38 RBI over 381 plate appearances with the Marlins last year. The veteran is versastile, having played first, second, and third base along with both corner outfield spots in recent seasons. Despite Walker’s versatility, it is tough to see room on the Phillies’ roster for him, barring injuries to other players. It never hurts to have depth.