The Orioles signed Craig Kimbrel to replace the dominant Bautista. It's not working out well so far

Updated May. 9, 2024 12:28 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) — Craig Kimbrel was still in position to secure his ninth save of the season for the Baltimore Orioles and 426th of his career after he threw a fastball down the middle to Eddie Rosario. The slumping Washington Nationals veteran sent it 413 feet to center field.

The Orioles led 3-2 with two outs in the ninth. But then Kimbrel threw an ankle-high fastball for ball four to the Nationals' No. 9 hitter, Trey Lipscomb, slapping the mound in disgust. A walk to Jacob Young followed.

Manager Brandon Hyde walked to the mound and took the ball from the 35-year-old closer, the second straight outing in which Kimbrel was pulled in the ninth with Baltimore still leading.

The Orioles found a way to win both games, and after they outlasted the Nationals 7-6 in 12 innings Wednesday night, Hyde said he'd continue to use Kimbrel in save situations. But Baltimore's plan to replace last year's dominant closer, Félix Bautista, with one of the best relievers in major league history hasn't gone smoothly so far.


“We’re going to stick with him. This guy’s got a big-time track record. He’s a Hall of Famer, and we need to get him right,” Hyde said. “It’s important that we get him right.”

The past two weeks have been nightmarish for Kimbrel, with one save in his five appearances.

He blew two saves in a three-game series against the Oakland Athletics, both leading to losses. He began the second outing against Oakland by throwing six straight balls, persuaded Hyde to let him stay in the game and then gave up a go-ahead two-run homer to Kyle McCann.

Kimbrel sat out a few days with what the team called back tightness. He looked good Friday night at Cincinnati, striking out the side to close out a 3-0 victory.

The next day, he entered with a 2-0 lead but retired only one of four batters before Hyde replaced him with Yennier Cano, who got out of the jam to save a 2-1 win.

Then came his meltdown against the Nationals that kicked off a wild, back-and-forth finish. Jacob Webb, Baltimore's eighth pitcher, got the save. Kimbrel didn't speak to reporters afterward.

“I think he’s gonna be fine, man,” Webb said. “He’s a Hall of Famer in my book and, you know, being around him every day and, and watching what he does, I think we have all the confidence in the world.”

In his past five outings, Kimbrel has allowed six runs and walked seven over 2 1/3 innings.

Kimbrel still has an upper-90s fastball and a sharp knuckle curve, but his stuff is no longer so dominant that he can get by when his command is off or he's not right physically.

The Orioles had that kind of dominance last year with Bautista, who paired a 100-plus mph fastball with a deceptive splitter and struck out 110 batters in 61 innings as Baltimore won 101 games and the AL East title. Bautista's unlar collateral ligament began bothering him late in the season, and he will miss this year after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

General manager Mike Elias turned to Kimbrel, signing him to a one-year, $13 million contract with a club option for 2025. But the righty is no longer the same pitcher he was from 2011-18 for Atlanta, San Diego and Boston, when he never had fewer than 31 saves in a season. His best year since was 2021, when he pitched for both Chicago teams and had 24 saves.

Elias expects the Orioles to return to the playoffs this year and make a deeper run. He can only hope Kimbrel will help them get there.