Orioles pregame notes on Cowser, Hays, Pérez, Kimbrel and more

BOSTON – Colton Cowser is playing left field again tonight to close out the series against the Red Sox, putting Austin Hays on the bench for the third game in a row and fourth out of six.

Cowser made two impressive catches last night in the eighth inning, slamming against the Green Monster and holding onto the ball while the Orioles protected a 7-5 lead.

“Those were two huge plays in big spots,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “Those balls fall, stuff changes from bullpen usage to other things. I’m excited about the way Colton Cowser is playing right now, just all around. The way he’s playing defense, the at-bats he’s given us, the speed on the bases, everything. He had a really nice game last night.

The Orioles face two right-handers in the weekend series against the Brewers at Camden Yards, which could limit Hays to starting against former teammate DL Hall on Saturday. But Hyde didn’t describe the left field arrangement as a strict platoon.

“Austin’s going to get back in there,” he said. “I think we’re just going to see how it goes, honestly. I like the way Colton’s playing right now, and with Cedric (Mullins) and (Anthony) Santander, we have a lot of really good problems right now. We have four guys on the bench that I wish could be out there, and that’s going to be on a nightly basis.”

Hays was an All-Star in 2023 and a Gold Glove finalist in left field. He had an abbreviated spring due to a stomach virus and was under the weather in Pittsburgh, and he’s 2-for-27 this season and hitless in his last 20 at-bats.

Sent to the plate last night as a pinch-hitter, Hays lined to deep center field at 103.8 mph. Hard contact might be a sign that he's close to busting out.

“As the season gets going it’s going to be easier to kind of rotate to be able to give guys days off," Hyde said. "Early in the year with all these off-days, it’s a little bit more difficult. But fatigue starts setting in and day games after night games and matchups, things like that, it’s a little bit easier to rotate guys.”

* Left-hander Cionel Pérez, on the injured list since March 31 with a right oblique strain, is on a throwing progression in Sarasota. He hasn’t experienced any setbacks but likely won’t be ready to rejoin the club when eligible.

“I’m not sure if he’s thrown a side yet, but he’s throwing,” Hyde said. “Moving in the right direction. The progression’s going extremely well. I know he’s playing catch, I’m just not sure how far along with that. But it’s just a matter of time now.”

* The Orioles are starting Tyler Wells, Dean Kremer and Corbin Burnes against the Brewers.

* Craig Kimbrel saw highlights from his Red Sox career playing on the video board last night and wasn't sure how to react. He smiled and raised his arm enough to offer a slight wave. And then it was back to business.

Kimbrel didn’t know that his former team would honor him. Many people didn’t realize that he hadn’t returned to Fenway Park since winning the 2018 World Series.

One of baseball’s top closers signed with the Cubs as a free agent and has played for five teams since his Boston days.

“Yeah, that was cool,” he said. “Brought back a lot of feelings. I’ve got a lot of memories here and always will. For them to do that, that was pretty cool.

“The last couple days being here in town and getting to take it in, those memories will always be with me. But when it was time to warm up, it was to make more good memories. Just in a different uniform.”

Kimbrel notched his second Orioles save and the 419th of his career with a spotless ninth inning that included two strikeouts. So much for warm and fuzzy.

“I’ve been back to Boston. Come back every year with my daughter. But to be the first time in the ballpark, back here to work, for it to have been that long, you’d have thought I would have been back by now,” he said.

“But it was good. Especially after the video last night, we came back and won the game. So, that made it an even bigger plus.”

Kimbrel’s return trips with daughter Lydia Joy, now six, are done as follow-up appointments at Boston Children's Hospital. She was born with a heart condition that required three surgeries to correct and took him away from the team in 2018.

"My family comes first and then baseball comes,” he said back in spring training in Fort Myers.

Lydia Joy is healthy now, and Kimbrel takes great joy in braiding her hair. He’s had lots of practice with his own.

Kimbrel is climbing the all-time saves list, ranking eighth and needing only three more to tie former teammate Billy Wagner, who finished his 16-year career with the Braves in 2010.

“It’s kind of crazy to think about,” Kimbrel said. “I’m approaching a number with a guy that I looked up to and got to play with my rookie year, right? To be able to sit here and say that, it’s crazy how time goes by. It just flies by, especially in this game. So focused on the job at hand and then just continuing and staying through the same process. There are aspects that feel like it’s been a while, but it’s just crazy how fast it goes by. To still being able to do it at this age and have guys remind me that they’ve been watching me ever since they were in elementary school, we laugh at it but that’s a good feeling to have been able to do it this long.

“By the time I got to play with (Wagner), he was already a very accomplished closer in the game. He had already gotten to do a lot of cool things, and I got to witness him close out some of the last games of his career. We all have guys that we watch and names that we learned growing up. It’s what drew us to this game as kids, and getting the opportunity to play with guys like that is pretty cool.”

After catching Wagner, Kimbrel can chase Kenley Jansen (423), who’s in the Red Sox’s bullpen, John Franco (424) and Francisco Rodríguez (437).

“He’s going to be passing people left and right here pretty soon,” Hyde said.

“I saw Craig when Fredi (González) and Bobby Cox were managing him in Atlanta, with Bobby in ’10 and ’11, and that was as electric as a … We had no idea who he was. This little right-hander coming out throwing bullets at 100. So, I’ve seen him for quite a while. He, in his prime, was as dominating as a lot of people have been. He just knows what he’s doing on the mound late in a game. The pulse is low, he’s really, really comfortable in that spot. And it’s unbelievably impressive.”

Have any Orioles teammates told Kimbrel that they watched him growing up?

“No, not yet, but I’m sure,” he said with a grin. “Everybody’s been nice so far.”

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