Peter Schmuck: Is Albert Suárez or Jacob Webb the new interim closer? -
Peter Schmuck

Peter Schmuck: Is Albert Suárez or Jacob Webb the new interim closer?

Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports


If you’re wondering what’s really going on with Orioles closer Craig Kimbrel, join the club.

Kimbrel got off to a terrific start after signing a $12 million contract with the Orioles to fill the void left by the season-killing injury to 2024 breakout star Félix Bautista, but something went very wrong during a series loss to the Oakland A’s at the end of April.



With good Kimbrel, who is a likely Hall of Famer, the O’s would have swept that series, but he suddenly spun out of control and blew ninth-inning leads in the series opener and finale, complaining of a sore upper back after giving up two runs in the April 28th loss.

He seemed to bounce back with an impressive inning against the Cincinnati Reds a week ago, but manager Brandon Hyde has had to pull him out of his last two save opportunities – most recently in Wednesday night’s wild 12-inning victory over the Nationals.

Trying to protect a two-run lead in that performance, he got the first two outs of the ninth and seemed to be cruising to a sweep-averting save when Eddie Rosario Jr., who came into the game with a .125 batting average, launched a mammoth home run to cut the lead in half. That’s when bad Kimbrel re-emerged and walked back-to-back hitters to bring out Hyde with the hook.

There isn’t room here to go through all the machinations that led to the Orioles squandering another two-run lead in extra innings and using almost everyone in the bullpen before scoring a wild, crazy and ultimately uplifting victory, but there was one big bullpen highlight that may have lasting ramifications.

Starter-turned-reliever Albert Suárez showed Hyde that he has another dependable late-inning arm when he came on to start the 10th inning with the potential winning run on second base and retired the side in order to give the Orioles another chance to avert a two-game series sweep.

Suárez wasn’t perfect. He came back for the 11th after Ryan Mountcastle homered to give the O’s another two-run lead and allowed a one-out double to score the ghost runner and a sacrifice fly to tie the game again, but still displayed good command throughout to create confidence that he can close if necessary.

He would end up getting the win and Jacob Webb finally got the save after the O’s established their third two-run lead.

So what’s going on with Kimbrel? If he wasn’t a guy who is climbing through the upper reaches of the all-time MLB save rankings, I’d speculate that he’s having a crisis of confidence. It sure looked that way after he responded to the Rosario home run with a pair of walks, but the guy has been doing this too long to come unglued with two outs, no one on and a one-run lead.

The only other likely explanation is physical, especially since he left the April 28th game looking very uncomfortable. His command has been shaky in four of his last five outings, yet no one is talking injured list … yet.

For now, Hyde is hanging tough with his $12 million closer, and he can afford to because of the emergence of Suárez and the solid performance of several of his middle and set-up relievers in clutch situations. It will be interesting to see how soon he goes back to Kimbrel in a tight save situation.

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

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