The Orioles knew replacing Félix Bautista would be no easy task. The team trusted Bautista in just about any ninth-inning situation in 2023, and he rewarded pitching them with a 1.48 ERA before he needed Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery at the end of the season.

And while the rest of the Orioles pitching staff has picked up the slack, especially lately, the pitcher they paid $13 million to replace Bautista as the closer has had mixed results.

He blew two saves against Oakland on April 26 and 28 and was then sidelined for a few days with upper back tightness. He returned and got the save on Friday against the Reds, but on Saturday he gave up two hits and a walk and was only able to get one out before he was removed. Yennier Cano had to come out to finish the job, and the Orioles were still able to get the win.

“A lot of it is execution-based. When it comes to pitchers and their deliveries, a lot of time it’s a slow leak and it’s something you don’t recognize and you don’t see maybe for a few outings,” pitching coach Drew French said. “As a staff, it’s really important for us to be in front of those things and try to get the information to the player at the right time. It’s a two-way street and a two-way conversation. Ultimately, it’s about getting him back to being nasty Craig Kimbrel.”

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While Kimbrel has had mixed results of late, the Orioles have only lost three games with him on the mound — in addition to the Oakland games, they dropped one against Pittsburgh, when Kimbrel kept the game tied but the Orioles lost in extras.

“I think he’s in a really good spot now,” French said. “I know the result [Saturday] wasn’t great, but he threw the ball better than the line would say.”

A big part of their plan with Kimbrel is trusting his track record — he has 425 saves, tied with Kenley Jansen for fifth all-time, and a career ERA of 2.42. When he says he’s fine and able to continue, the staff believes him. They just need him to get his confidence back, French said, and to see himself execute again.

The players still backs him fully.

“For me, he’s been at this a really long time,” catcher James McCann said. “He’s one of those guys you have trust in regardless ... I don’t think anyone in that locker room doubts his ability or doubts how big he is or how important he is to this game.”

Danielle Allentuck covers the Orioles for The Baltimore Banner. She previously reported on the Rockies for the Denver Gazette and general sports assignments for The New York Times as part of its fellowship program. A Maryland native, Danielle grew up in Montgomery County and graduated from Ithaca College.

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