CHICAGO – Some trades are expected. Some trades come out of nowhere.
Reliever Brandon Kintzler said his trade from the Washington Nationals to the Cubs last year was not on his radar.
“[The trade] was pretty unexpected, and there was a lot of drama behind it,” Kintzler said. “When it’s so unexpected and your whole family has to move, it’s a whirlwind for everybody.”
The “drama” came in the form of accusations that Kintzler was the source of an anonymous quote calling the Nationals clubhouse “dysfunctional.”
At the time, Kintzler denied that he was the anonymous source, and Cubs president Theo Epstein said in a radio interview that then-Yahoo Sports reporter Jeff Passan called him and told him Kintzler was not the source of the quote.
Drama aside, Kintzler’s performance on the field dipped after his trade to the Cubs. In 25 appearances with the Cubs after the July 31 deal, his ERA ballooned to 7.00 in 18 innings.
This season, through 13 appearances and 132/3 innings, Kintzler’s ERA is at 2.63 with 11 strikeouts and two walks. Kintzler said he finally feels like himself in Chicago after the trade.
“[I’m] more comfortable around here, [my] mentality is clear, being back to what I normally do, being in attack mode,” Kintzler said. “That’s really the difference: being comfortable from a trade and being comfortable around the guys, not trying to be anyone special. Just do what I do.”
Kintzler’s big-league story took a long time to materialize. As a former 40th-round draft pick kicking around the San Diego Padres’ minor league system, Kintzler missed the entire 2006 season after shoulder surgery and was released from the Padres. He spent his time rehabbing and scooping ice cream at a Cold Stone Creamery that his sister owned in the Las Vegas area.
He worked his way back through independent ball from 2007 until the Milwaukee Brewers signed him to a minor league deal in 2009. Kintzler made his MLB debut in 2010 and played six seasons for Milwaukee. He signed with the Minnesota Twins in 2016 and was an All-Star in 2017 before the Twins traded him to Washington at the 2017 trade deadline.
In a Cubs bullpen that took its share of criticism through the first few weeks of the 2019 season, Kintzler was a bright spot. He and first-year Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy simplified his delivery during spring training.
“Less moving parts, just trying to get my arm slot back to where it was before,” Kintzler said. “It was simple really. He watched me play catch in the offseason, and that’s what he thought it looked like. I threw a couple bullpens with it and took off from there.”
Kintzler said Hottovy, who is 37, is “easy going” and brings positive energy. He also said Hottovy works with relievers more than other pitching coaches he has worked with.
Through the first month of this season, Kintzler has significantly lowered his walk rate (from 8.4% last season to 4.2% this year). His ground ball rate has increased by about 8%.
“It’s all in the mindset really,” Kintzler said. “If you’re clear, if you don’t have to think about mechanics, then you can rely on your athletic ability to take over. That’s what my main focus is.”