Orioles' Kimbrel could enhance his playoff resume; Mateo prepares for center-field duty - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Spring Training

Orioles’ Kimbrel could enhance his playoff resume; Mateo prepares for center-field duty

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

SARASOTA, Florida—The Orioles signed a potential Hall of Fame closer in December, one who’s concerned more about winning than numbers.

Craig Kimbrel, 35, has 417 saves, eighth on the all-time list. Boston’s Kenley Jansen is just three ahead of him. With a decent season on a team that won 101 games last season, Kimbrel could jump over Jansen, Billy Wagner (422), John Franco (424) and Francisco Rodriguez (437) for fourth place.

Mariano Rivera (652), Trevor Hoffman (601) and Lee Smith (478), each Hall of Famers, are far ahead of Kimbrel.

Kimbrel, who signed a one-year, $13 million contract, is proud of those numbers, but he’s more energized by his new teammates.

“It’s exciting. It’s fun, getting to see what these guys did last year,” Kimbrel said. “I’m coming in and jumping on something that’s already moving. I’m jumping on the train and expecting to come here and do my job and keep it going.”

Kimbrel’s numbers are impressive. Playing for current Orioles bench coach Fredi González with the Atlanta Braves, Kimbrel had a 185 saves from 2011-2014, leading the National League for four consecutive seasons.

He’s played on nine postseason teams, three with Atlanta and Boston, and once with the Chicago Cubs and White Sox and last season with Philadelphia. Kimbrel is eager for a 10th.

The Orioles’ acquisition of former Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes makes that more likely in Kimbrel’s mind.

“Anytime a team tries to bring in an ace, you’re just tacking on wins and more opportunities to win, and it’s always a positive,” Kimbrel said. “He’s one of the best in the game and has been for a while, and he’s going to continue to do it. To have him here is just really nice.”

Kimbrel is coming to a clubhouse where nearly all of the players are back.

“I think when you have this many guys that have played together for the last couple of years in the minor leagues, and they’re making it up here together, there’s already a closeness to that,” Kimbrel said. “You can definitely see it.

“I’m still getting to know everybody in here. I’m looking forward to getting to know everybody in here, but it’s not surprising. If a team wins, if a team has a good season, there is going to be closeness there. That’s part of being successful is a team being a team.”

Manager Brandon Hyde said he’s hoping Kimbrel will be his closer all season. He replaces Félix Bautista, who will miss the 2024 season after having Tommy John surgery.

“I’m just coming in to do what I’ve always done, to answer questions and to try to make everyone better around me and try to let everyone around me make me better,” Kimbrel said. “It’s part of the give-and-take of this game. I’ve played this game for a long time, but I don’t know everything. I’ll be able to share everything and what I know.

“At the same time, I’ve been playing this game for a long time, but there’s always different ways to look at this game. I’ve always said, when you stop trying to figure out different ways to win and different ways to be successful, it’s time to go home. I’m not ready for that. I’m ready to keep on rolling, have some good days and fun times with these guys.”

Mateo eager for bounce-back year:

Jorge Mateo had a wonderful April last year, hitting .347 with six home runs and 17 RBIs with 10 stolen bases. The rest of the year wasn’t very good. He had just one homer, an inside-the-parker and 17 RBIs. He ended the year with a .217 average and a .607 OPS. He finished with 32 stolen bases.

“I [need to] stay a little bit more focused and be aggressive and be ready for every opportunity they give me and be confident,” Mateo said.

Mateo has played mostly shortstop for the Orioles, but he might play more center field this season, according to Hyde.

“Five days a week I was working on it, even in the winter,” Mateo said. “I was playing a lot of center field, a lot of left field. Be ready for the opportunity. You never know.”

Mateo, 28, signed a one-year, $2.7 million contract before the deadline for contracts to be offered.

“I never thought I wouldn’t be back with the team. I tried to stay positive with what I can control,” Mateo said.

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