Kimbrel finding his groove in spring as O's new closer

March 16th, 2024

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Spring Training can be a vastly different experience every year for a pitcher in terms of building up in his throwing program, progressing from one outing to the next and also ensuring that both his stuff and his command are where they need to be in order to compete against hitters at the highest level.

Just ask , who has been pitching in the big leagues since 2010.

“I’m 35 now. So I didn’t come in in the same shape I would have when I was 21,” said Kimbrel, who is in his first spring with the Orioles. “Knowing that I have time to progress, taking full advantage of the physical therapy and the trainers that we have here, understanding that if I had pushed myself a little too much in the offseason, I might have a setback, and I don’t want to run into that.

“I come in ready to get ready.”

With only 12 days until Opening Day, Kimbrel is almost ready. Baltimore’s new closer has made five Grapefruit League appearances, the most recent coming Saturday afternoon, when he worked a scoreless inning during a 5-4 win over Boston at Ed Smith Stadium.

The stats may not matter, but they’re trending in a great direction for Kimbrel. After allowing five runs in two innings over his first two spring outings, the veteran right-hander has pitched a scoreless frame in each of his past three appearances.

Against the Red Sox, Kimbrel opened the sixth with a four-pitch walk to Pablo Reyes, who immediately stole second base. But Kimbrel retired the next three batters in order, getting Triston Casas to ground out and then striking out both Bobby Dalbec and Wilyer Abreu.

Manager Brandon Hyde was pleased with the velocity on Kimbrel’s fastball, which sat around 94-95 mph.

“Craig’s gotten better every time,” Hyde said.

That’s been Kimbrel’s objective, as he pays less attention to his ERA and more to the feel of his pitches.

“Each and every outing, I try to take one step forward,” Kimbrel said, “let it be me having more control, my ball spinning like I want it to or my velocity going up.”

Kimbrel, who ranks eighth in AL/NL history with 417 career saves, admits it’s difficult for him to pitch in a Spring Training setting, where he’s entering in a middle inning without a game on the line. He’s used to the high-pressure, high-stakes situations he’s faced in ninth innings for the past 14 years.

It won’t be too long before Kimbrel returns to that environment, with the Orioles’ Opening Day matchup set for March 28 vs. the Angels at Camden Yards. Kimbrel is scheduled to pitch on back-to-back days in the upcoming week, the final step in his preparation for the regular season.

“Then, we’ll be ready for Opening Day,” Kimbrel said. “Ready for the adrenaline, ready for the lights and ready to have some fun.”

Burnes takes big step in fourth spring start
, who will start Opening Day for the O’s, allowed four runs (three earned) over five innings against Boston while throwing 58 pitches (47 strikes). All of the damage against the 29-year-old right-hander came in the second, which featured back-to-back home runs by Dalbec and Abreu.

Burnes worked a 1-2-3 first, and he retired the final 11 batters he faced, setting down Boston’s side in order in the third, fourth and fifth. During that stretch, Burnes said everything “clicked” in terms of both his mechanics and his relationships with catcher Adley Rutschman and Baltimore’s pitching coaches.

Rutschman called for the exact pitches Burnes wanted to throw, as everybody was on the same page, leading to strong results. That was the “big win” for Burnes, who is still learning his new team after spending the first eight years of his professional career in Milwaukee’s organization.

“Fortunately, we got it done before Opening Day started,” Burnes said. “I think we’re in a good spot, and now, we can continue to have those conversations, just continue to build on what we got through today.”

A walk-off winner
A group of prospects lifted the Orioles to victory in the ninth inning. Jud Fabian (Baltimore’s No. 13 prospect per MLB Pipeline) hit a game-tying RBI single, then Dylan Beavers (No. 8) walked it off with an RBI infield single.

The winning rally also featured a single by Coby Mayo (O’s No. 4 and No. 30 overall), who went 4-for-4. The 22-year-old is 14-for-37 (.378) with six doubles, a homer and 10 RBIs in 18 Grapefruit League games this spring.