SARASOTA, Fla. — Watching the ball fly around the yard, Craig Kimbrel had to keep reminding himself this was only spring training. The veteran right-hander took the mound Monday for the Orioles with a clear idea of what he wanted to work on, and he couldn’t let the hard contact disrupt his development plan.

“Don’t try to ramp it back and let it go,” Kimbrel told himself again. “I’m out here working on spring training-type things, not necessarily focused on the results.”

Still, the results weren’t pretty. By the time Kimbrel recorded three outs, the Minnesota Twins had recorded five hits and four runs against him.

That’s an unsavory feeling for any high-level competitor, but in the clubhouse the next morning, Kimbrel instead focused on what he feels to be the more important aspects of that outing.

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Kimbrel entered the game with his attention on his lower-body mechanics — his load, his push-off, his stride and his landing — all aspects that are as important to pitching technique as anything his arm does. He altered his starting hand positioning this offseason to better hide the ball and avoid tipping pitches. He changed his between-pitch routine to better abide by the pitch clock, avoiding the violations that beleaguered him last year.

All of those adjustments took the focus. The results — no matter how much he wants outs — were secondary.

“I mean, nobody wants to go out there and get hit around, but at the same time, I was able to get feedback on how the ball was coming out of my hand,” Kimbrel said. “I was able to work through it. I was kind of glad I was able to throw that many pitches, because as the inning went on, I got a good idea of what I was doing, and to continue to work through that.”

The Orioles signed Kimbrel this offseason with the intention that he would take on the club’s closer duties in place of the injured Félix Bautista, and nothing about Kimbrel’s two-inning sample has changed that belief.

In Kimbrel’s bid to prepare for opening day, the lumps he takes are a usual part of his spring — not something to enjoy when they do occur but not something to rattle a veteran of 14 seasons, either.

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In 2020, the right-hander allowed three runs in his first two appearances. He gave up nine runs in his first three games in 2021. In 2022, he conceded eight runs in his first two outings.

Although Kimbrel bucked the trend last year, it returned Monday against the Twins. Across his two innings thus far, Kimbrel has allowed five runs — not his worst start to the spring, for sure, but also not his best.

“For me, spring training for him is kind of getting ready for the season,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “If you look at the last few years, numbers-wise and stuff, velocity, it’s been similar. I talked to him this morning. He felt good after the outing yesterday. He’s got some minor mechanical adjustments, things like that, that he wants to work on. But he’s not concerned about velocity at all.”

Kimbrel’s first pitch Monday was rocked for a home run from Emmanuel Rodriguez down the right-field line — and it left Rodriguez’s bat at 114.6 mph. Kimbrel then allowed three singles and a double before escaping the inning.

The large workload in that one inning, in hindsight, will be useful for Kimbrel in the long run. He stretched out his arm, and now he has a large sample from which to study.

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And he knows his pitch mix and location will improve as the Orioles get closer to opening day.

“I think life-wise, I just didn’t have that much jump to my ball yesterday. Threw a lot of fastballs. I mean, there were a lot of counts where, in the regular season, I’m not going to just keep throwing fastballs like that. I’m going to start mixing it up,” Kimbrel said. “I might’ve gotten some more outs and maybe not have given up as many hits [by mixing in other pitches], but I’m looking for work. I know I can go out there and throw off-speed pitches, change up my repertoire and stuff like that, but that’s not necessarily what I was working on yesterday. I was working on getting my pitches in, getting down the hill, and trying to be as consistent as possible as I’m doing that.”

What’s playing on Kimbrel’s mind, too, is finding a way to avoid pitch clock violations. No pitcher last year — the first of pitch clock implementation — recorded as many violations as Kimbrel (13).

For as long as Kimbrel can remember, he strode off the mound after his pitch to catch the ball, then walked back up the mound to the rubber. He rubbed the baseball in his hands. Then he stood on the mound, staring in at the plate, before coming set and delivering the ball. Now, he’s trying to stay on the mound when he receives the return ball from the catcher.

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“When you’re catching it in front of the dirt and walking back and doing all that, shaves off quite a bit of time,” Kimbrel said. “So if I can catch the ball at the back of the rubber and do that, little things like that will buy me four, five seconds, which is a pretty big deal when we’ve only got 18 seconds now.”

He hasn’t run into a pitch clock issue in his two innings this spring, and he plans to keep it that way. But, between altering his between-pitch sequence, focusing on his legs Monday, a new starting hand position and the fact he entered in the fourth inning rather than his usual ninth?

There was a lot going on beyond worrying about results on an early March afternoon.

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville.

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