PITTSBURGH — Craig Kimbrel‘s two-year journey through the wilderness appears to be over.
The seven-time All-Star stuff is back. And the Chicago Cubs closer used every bit of it while finishing off the reeling Pittsburgh Pirates in a 4-2 win on Thursday to become the 12th pitcher in major league history with 350 career saves.
“It’s a tremendous accomplishment,” Kimbrel said. “Glad I was able to get here. Plan is to get to 400 now.”
Kimbrel’s 22-pitch performance didn’t exactly leave him gassed. The 32-year-old spent nearly an hour going through his usual postgame workout routine.
“He’s a special one and we’re fortunate to have him,” Chicago starter Jake Arrieta said after working six innings to improve to 2-0. “He’s going to climb the ranks. Especially with the stuff that he still has. He might end up being No. 1 at the end of the day.”
A prospect that seemed far-fetched during Kimbrel’s well-documented struggles. He slogged through 2019 and 2020, going 0-5 with a 6.00 ERA in 41 appearances for Chicago.
It is fast becoming a somewhat distant memory. Kimbrel has yet to allow a hit in 4⅔ innings in 2021. Asked what the difference is between now and the last couple seasons, Kimbrel just shrugged his shoulders.
“Throwing strikes,” he said with a laugh.