By JAY COHEN | AP Sports Writer
CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs placed closer Craig Kimbrel on the 10-day injured list Monday and announced All-Star catcher Willson Contreras will be sidelined for four weeks with a right hamstring strain.
The pair of injuries will test Chicago's depth and the ingenuity of its front office as it tries to win the roller-coaster NL Central for the third time in four years. While manager Joe Maddon can turn to Steve Cishek and Brandon Kintzler while Kimbrel is out, the catching situation is more perilous and the team can't trade for help under a new set of rules that began this year.
Kimbrel, who got a late start this year after he finalized a $43 million, three-year deal with the Cubs in June, is dealing with inflammation in his right knee. He said it started bothering him while he was closing out Saturday's 4-1 victory over the Brewers.
"We assessed it yesterday morning and it looked like there was a strain and some swelling in there and we're just going to let it calm down," Kimbrel said before Chicago's series opener against Oakland. "Instead of trying to throw through it, which I'm pretty confident that I could, instead of making it a bigger problem than it is, just letting it calm down."
Kimbrel had a meniscus surgery on his left knee in 2016, but he said this isn't nearly as bad. The IL stint is retroactive to Sunday, and he thinks he will be ready when he is eligible to return.
"This is just some discomfort that I'm going to get some time and then everything should be fine," he said.
Kimbrel is 0-2 with a 5.68 ERA and nine saves in 14 games. But the right-hander felt he was getting closer to his usual form of late, posting scoreless outings in 10 of his last 11 appearances.
Asked about closing games while Kimbrel is out, Maddon said: "It's committee time." He mentioned Cishek, who has 132 career saves, Kintzler, rookie Rowan Wick and Kyle Ryan as possibilities. Pedro Strop also is progressing after going on the IL with neck tightness.
"Of course, you prefer not having to do this," Maddon said, "but having the guys had the experience in doing this, I think we can make it work."
Right-hander Duane Underwood Jr. was recalled from Triple-A Iowa before the matchup with the A's, but Maddon said he will be used in a long relief role. The Cubs also announced reliever Brad Brach cleared waivers and was released.
Contreras pulled up and grabbed the back of his leg as he exited the batter's box on a flyout Saturday against Milwaukee. He had an MRI on Monday that showed a Grade 2 strain.
"I've got to be smart with the recovery process," said Contreras, who is batting .275 with 19 homers and 57 RBIs in 87 games. "I'm going to take it slow. I'm not going to rush it at all."
Contreras experienced a similar injury in 2017 that he said was a little higher on his leg. He missed almost exactly a month two years ago.
"Obviously I did the right things back in 2017 to come back stronger, which I did, and I have to do it better this year," he said.
Without Contreras, Victor Caratini will get the bulk of the time behind the plate. Taylor Davis also was recalled from Iowa when Contreras went on the IL, and the team likely will look outside for help.
The Cubs acquired Martin Maldonado in a trade with Kansas City on July 15, but they dealt him to Houston on Wednesday rather than keep three catchers on their roster.
"We weren't entirely confident that it wouldn't impact all three guys in a negative way," general manager Jed Hoyer said, "and three out of 25 is a big number when you think about your overall clubhouse dynamic. So that was a big part of the conversation."
In previous years, the Cubs could have tried to trade for help, but July 31 was a hard deadline this season. There are very few viable options on the waiver wire.
"We've never played with this set of rules, so I think we're all kind of trying to figure this out together," Hoyer said. "It's new, but I mean that's the job and I think sometimes with new rules it does force that kind of creativity and we'll do everything we can to find the right way to address our depth."