Orioles new closer Craig Kimbrel: 'The 9th inning's for me' - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Rich Dubroff

Orioles new closer Craig Kimbrel: ‘The 9th inning’s for me’

Photo Credit: Eric Hartline USA TODAY Sports

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Craig Kimbrel is one of the best closers in baseball history, and when the Orioles needed a closer for next season with Félix Bautista recovering from Tommy John surgery, it seemed like a natural fit.

Kimbrel has won best reliever awards in both leagues, is a nine-time All-Star and has 417 saves, eighth most in baseball history and second most among active players.

“First, I’m looking for an opportunity, and the opportunity is definitely there in Baltimore,” Kimbrel said from his Nashville area home in a video conference call on Thursday. “In conversations I had with them and from what I’ve seen from afar, it seems like the character, and what they want to do down the road definitely lines up with how I view the game, and how I want to play.

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“They want to win, and they want to win now. I don’t know how many more years I’ve got to do this and go out there to sling the ball. I want to be a part of a winner. I want to be a part of a great opportunity and be comfortable doing it, and they provided all of those things for me.”

In 14 major league seasons, the 35-year-old Kimbrel has been a part of nine postseasons. He has a 4.50 earned-run average in the postseason and has saved 10 games in 11 opportunities. Two of his three postseason losses came in Games 3 and 4 of October’s National League Championship Series in Philadelphia’s loss to Arizona.

The Orioles will be Kimbrel’s eighth team. He has pitched with the Phillies, Braves, Padres, Red Sox, Cubs, White Sox and Dodgers. Kimbrel said he’s looking forward to sharing some of his experience with the Orioles’ younger relievers.

“Absolutely, over the last few years, I’ve understood some of the roles and some of the impact I can make on other players,” Kimbrel said. “The things that I can share, hopefully, to make them better, which makes the team better.

“I still enjoy going out there and competing. I want to get the last out of every game and every opportunity I can get. I sure do get a lot of satisfaction and a lot of happiness from getting to know a lot of these guys that are going to be in the game for longer than [me] and are going to continue to make this game great and fun, and getting those chances to work with young players and learn from them.

‘If I’m not still trying to get better, if I’m still not trying to learn in this game, I’m not doing something right.”

The Orioles signed Kimbrel for a reported $13 million for 2024 with a $13 million option for 2025. He has a $1 million buyout after next season that could grow to $2 million with incentives, according to The New York Post.

Kimbrel will work out with Orioles catcher James McCann, who was at the Winter Meetings on Wednesday. Kimbrel and McCann live near each other, but as hard as they work, they can’t replicate the feeling of the ninth inning in December.

“I guess the ninth inning’s for me. I love it,” Kimbrel said. “It’s everything about who I am and what I want. There are going to be days when I go out there and get punched in the face.

“That’s not going to define who I am as a pitcher and a player or a person. I understand I have an opportunity the next day to make it right and that’s one of the things I love most about it. It keeps me going, and I want to take the ball every single year. There’s always another opportunity the next day and the next season and as long as long as I keep grinding and going, those opportunities are going to be there.”

Kimbrel wanted the assurance he would close, and the Orioles provided that.

“Over the course of my career, that’s where I’ve been most comfortable, I’ve had the most success pitching,” he said. “I understand where we are in this game. I understand there are going to be situations and times where I’m going to be asked to do other things.

“Them coming and saying, ‘hey, we want you to throw the ninth,’ absolutely that was something that was a plus. The winning opportunity that this team has, I want to be a part of it. To me, that was more important than saying, ‘hey, I have an opportunity to close out games.’”

Kimbrel has spent more of his time in the National League than the American, and hasn’t pitched in Baltimore since 2018, so he hasn’t experienced the deeper dimensions in left field.

“A lot of time I was in Camden Yards as a pitcher, it wasn’t a ballpark you wanted to go to,” he said. “It looks like a much more pitcher-friendly ballpark now.”

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