Kimbrel better than ever? Contreras, Ross think so

  • Craig Kimbrel struck out the side in the ninth inning of the Cubs' 4-3 win over San Diego Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.

    Craig Kimbrel struck out the side in the ninth inning of the Cubs' 4-3 win over San Diego Tuesday night at Wrigley Field. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 6/2/2021 10:04 AM

When Craig Kimbrel struck out the side in the ninth inning Tuesday night, he lowered his earned-run average to 0.78, with 39 strikeouts in 23 innings.

Catcher Willson Contreras was impressed with Kimbrel's work against the Padres.

 

"I've been catching Kimbrel since 2019 and I think this is the best stuff he's had with us," Contreras said. "It made me think of him with Boston, his stuff was great. Right now he's unhittable, to be honest.

"The curveball is working really good. He's manipulating that pitch however he wants and the fastball is obviously coming out with high spin rate and he's locating good pitches."

Kimbrel is 33 years old and likely headed to the Hall of Fame. Is this the best he's pitched?

According to his career stats, Kimbrel pitched in 21 games as a rookie with Atlanta in 2010 and had an ERA of 0.44. He had a 1.01 ERA in a more complete season in 2012. Those were his best years in terms of ERA.

Kimbrel's strikeout rate of 15.3 barely ranks in the Top 10 in MLB this season. Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman leads at 17.1.

Kimbrel has had four seasons with a higher strikeout rate, including last season with the Cubs, when he was at 16.4. He needs six more saves to catch Jeff Reardon for 10th place on the all-time saves list.

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"He was definitely pretty electric tonight," manager David Ross said after the game. Ross played for the Braves during Kimbrel's first three big-league seasons.

"It looked like he was just attacking the hitters, the breaking ball looked great. The ball looked absolutely explosive out of his hand, good climb to it. Yeah, he was electric."

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