Kimbrel struggled to close out what was an otherwise smooth Cubs victory on Friday night, adding to a long line of rough outings since he joined the team last year.
Manager David Ross said earlier this week he'd give the seven-time All-Star "a little bit of leash," but Kimbrel's struggles have become so pronounced that on Saturday, the skipper wouldn't commit to calling on him in a high-leverage spot going forward.
"That's a good question," Ross said after being asked if Kimbrel would pitch with a one-run lead, according to Gordon Wittenmyer of NBC Sports Chicago. "I appreciate you asking that. I'm not sure on that yet. I'll get back to you on that."
Kimbrel arrived in Chicago last June with a stellar resume. Over his first nine seasons, the four-time Reliever of the Year averaged 37 saves and 96 strikeouts a year - striking out 100-plus batters three times - to go along with a sparkling 1.91 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. But since inking a three-year, $43-million contract with the Cubs last June, he owns a 7.77 ERA with 30 strikeouts, 16 walks, and only 13 saves.
His Chicago struggles have only grown more pronounced this season. After entering Monday's game in Cincinnati with a three-run lead, Kimbrel walked four of the six batters he faced, hit another, allowed two runs, and threw just 13 of his 34 pitches for strikes before getting pulled. Jeremy Jeffress got the final two outs to finish off a one-run win.
In a non-save situation on Friday, Kimbrel opened the ninth by allowing back-to-back home runs before securing a win over Pittsburgh. But he still hasn't recorded a strikeout this year, and his ERA now sits at 27.00.
Ross stressed that there is no decision yet about removing Kimbrel as closer, but he acknowledged that discussions about his role are ongoing. The team may only reveal a change by calling someone else in a save situation on Saturday.
"I'm in the middle of conversations with Craig. We'll have those with him first before I talk to you guys (in the media)," Ross said, according to The Athletic's Patrick Mooney. "We'll see where his arm is at today, see if he's available today, and then we'll go from there."