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Injured Orioles Closer Makes History In Return

Orioles closer Craig Kimbrel recorded his historic eighth save of the season, sealing Friday’s win in a perfect ninth inning. It was Kimbrel’s first appearance five days after leaving the game alongside the Orioles training staff on April 28th. Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said after the game that Kimbrel was considered day-to-day with upper back tightness.

Kimbrel, who has otherwise been dominant for Baltimore, struggled in his two outings against Oakland recording back-to-back blown saves and his first loss of the season. The veteran closer was throwing in the mid-90s on Sunday, but something was visibly wrong. The 35-year-old’s back injury could explain his uncharacteristic struggles against the Athletics. Going into the series opener, Kimbrel had a 0.81 ERA after throwing ten shutout innings since his first blown save on April 1st. His ERA shot up to 3.18 after giving up three runs to the A’s over 1 ⅓ innings. 

After five days on the sidelines, Kimbrel returned to his role as the Orioles closer in Friday’s win over Cincinnati. The veteran right-hander didn’t show any signs of rust Friday, striking out the side to close out a shutout victory. Kimbrel recorded his eighth save of the season and the 425th save of his career. He passes John Franco, which ties him with Kenley Jansen for fifth most all-time. Craig Kimbrel (3-1) sports a 2.92 ERA with a 1.14 WHIP and 20 strikeouts through 12 ⅓ innings. His eight saves on the season ties the veteran right-hander fourth in the American League with A’s closer Mason Miller.


Orioles Craig Kimbrel Returns From Back Injury In Historic Fashion

Kimbrel signed a one-year, $13 million contract with the Orioles following Félix Bautista’s season-ending elbow surgery. Right-hander Félix Bautista earned his first AL Reliever of the Year last season despite spending September on the injured list. While Kimbrel hasn’t been lighting up the radar gun through his first 12 ⅓ innings in Baltimore, he hasn’t needed to. He sports a 20:6 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and the spin rates on his four-seam and knuckle curve are nearing career highs. The future Hall of Famer has a 40% strikeout percentage that ranks him seventh among all MLB pitchers.

Baltimore has said they won’t use the veteran closer three days in a row this early in the season. But the Orioles haven’t used his arm sparingly, either. With 14 appearances through his team’s first 32 games, he’s on pace for 70 outings this year—a threshold he has only reached twice in his career. In recent years, Kimbrel has struggled with fatigue and overuse in the second half of the season. But his lower velocity could be what helps him fight off the fatigue that has plagued him in recent years.

Craig Kimbrel is one of the greatest relievers of his generation, and he is electric to watch when he’s going strong. Kimbrel has never made a start and is tied 16th all-time with Jansen in games finished (622). He will continue to battle Jansen for the active lead in career saves and could surpass Francisco Rodríguez (437) for fourth all-time.

Kimbrel’s battery mate, Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman, said after Kimbrel’s early exit Sunday, “I think that Craig’s a phenomenal pitcher. He’s going to bounce back. We’ve got no worries.” Kimbrel certainly didn’t show any signs of rust on Friday after five days of rest after recovering from upper back tightness.

Main Photo Credits:  James A. Pittman-USA TODAY Sports


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