Rodriguez and Kimbrel highlighted today's Orioles live batting practice (plus other notes)

SARASOTA, Fla. – Grayson Rodriguez and Craig Kimbrel pitched today in the same live batting practice session on the stadium field. The starter with ace stuff, and the closer with a Hall of Fame resume.

The pairing could be replayed many times over the 2024 season.

Rodriguez got two “ups” this afternoon, with a shortened first inning that featured Anthony Santander’s line drive to right-center field, Ramón Urías’ strikeout and Ryan O’Hearn’s ground ball to the right side of the infield.

Asked what he could take away from his appearance, Rodriguez said, “Practice, I guess is really all you could say about it.”

There was more.

“Just good to see hitters in the box, get used to some game-speed type stuff,” he added. “Obviously, seeing guys from both sides of the plate. In the offseason, it’s hard to see lefties and righties up to bat. Getting to face our guys is a lot of fun. Getting to talk a lot of trash in the clubhouse and all that stuff. It’s a fun day at work.”

Kimbrel faced nine batters in his inning, with Adley Rutschman behind the plate. One pitch sliced inside to James McCann, who had to get out of the way.

“We’ve got ice,” Santander yelled from the dugout.

Ryan Mountcastle flied out, Santander bounced to first, Urías returned to the bench after popping up into the stands behind home plate, O’Hearn flied to the center field warning track, Mountcastle struck out looking, Santander struck out swinging, Urías flied out and O’Hearn struck out swinging.

“I watched Kimbrel from the dugout. Obviously, he’s pretty special,” Rodriguez said.

“Seeing the delivery and all, I think that’s pretty cool. Getting to watch somebody like that, I think it’s going to be a lot of fun this year. I think we’ve got a good season ahead of us.”

Kimbrel was in midseason pose on the mound, with his waist bent so he’s almost parallel to the ground and his right arm held at a 90-degree angle.

“That thing is scary,” Mountcastle said. “At least he’s on my team this time around.”

“I’ve faced him before a couple times during the year," Mountcastle added. "He’s obviously got electric stuff and he’s really good. He’s a very good option to have. A veteran throwing strikes out there. His stuff looked really good, so I’m excited to have him on the team.

“He’s one of the best to ever do it, so it’s definitely a fun at-bat to get out there and face him a little bit.”

Kimbrel, who signed a guaranteed $13 million deal at the Winter Meetings, said he felt like it was the first time he’s faced hitters since last season.

“I come into spring to work to get ready for the season, and pretty happy with where I am right now," he said. "Ball was coming out good, body feels good. Just work on progressing as spring goes on, making sure the body feels good and then just watch my velo kind of climb as we go through spring. Kind of how I’ve always done it, and expect to do it again this year.”

McCann caught Rodriguez and faced Kimbrel, drawing a walk against the veteran. He was in a good position to evaluate both pitchers.

“Let’s start with Kimbrel,” he said. “I mean, he’s a pro, he knows exactly what he’s trying to do. I think he got in the work today that he wanted to get in. He looked like he’s right on track. That’s probably the best way to put it.

“As far as Grayson goes, I thought there were a lot of positives today. If you talk to him, he’s probably going to be frustrated about his command a little bit. But I think a lot of good things came from today’s session with him. Getting two ups, that’s a big deal in spring training, and he left with a couple things he wants to work on in spring training. Other than that, I thought there were a lot of positives.”

McCann caught Kimbrel in the offseason. There was a noticeable difference in Sarasota.

“You can see the progression,” McCann said. “He’s been doing it for so long, he’s got it down to a science. He knows exactly where he needs to be in what point in time in camp. He doesn’t get caught up in velocities and results. He gets caught up in making the pitch he wants to make. I think you probably heard him say something to Rutsch about, ‘I don’t care about that, I care about that.’ Talking about the ball that Mounty hit off him, he was more concerned about where the location was than what the hitter was doing, because he knows at the end of the day, if he makes his pitches when he’s at full-go come the season, then he’s going to be in a good spot.

“I think he’s going to be a huge piece in the back end of our bullpen.”

Rutschman caught one of Kimbrel’s early bullpen sessions, and they continued today to get familiar with each other to create a smooth partnership in real games.

“We’ve talked about positioning based on pitches, where I would like him to set up,” Kimbrel said. “Like I told him before we went out there, I said, ‘We’ve just got to throw with each other, and the more we throw, the more we’ll get comfortable,’ and he’ll learn me and I’ll learn him and everything can come together. We’ve got plenty of time for that, but these live BPs definitely help.

“I tried to explain to him where my angle is and where I want to start pitches and why, and why certain things work best, and hopefully communicate that with him to where as we grow throughout the season, we’ll be on the same page. I told him I don’t want to shake him. I feel comfortable with all my pitches, and when we get into the games I’m going to trust whatever he puts down. So, the more we work together, the easier the rhythm’s going to come. We’re going to be able to be on the same page, we’re going to be able to call pitches together. But that just comes with time, so it was good.”

* The Orioles’ roster on Opening Day could hold four or five outfielders. They haven’t decided the exact composition, with some pending infield decisions factoring into it.

The starters are set with left fielder Austin Hays, center fielder Cedric Mullins and right fielder Santander. Keeping only one reserve would break down the competition to include Heston Kjerstad, Colton Cowser, Ryan McKenna, Kyle Stowers and Sam Hilliard.

Jorge Mateo is the “X factor,” said manager Brandon Hyde, who’s evaluating him in center and left.

The club would need to trust Mateo to handle those positions at Camden Yards, where the configuration in left brings special challenges.

“You definitely want to be able to cover center and left in our place,” Hyde said. “I honestly don’t know at this point if we’re going to carry four or five, how that’s going to look. That’s why McKenna’s been so valuable for us the last couple years, a guy that can play above-average both in center and left field. And he’s back again.

“Our outfield competition, I think, is really, really strong, and then you add Mateo in there, with his flexibility. We’ll see how our infield looks at that point, too. It’s way to early to tell how many guys we’re going to carry in the infield and outfield.”

McKenna is out of options, which removes him as an easy shuttle move. The Orioles can’t send him down without exposing him to waivers.

“Anytime anybody is out of options … we have bullpen guys who are out of options, too,” Hyde said. “That’s definitely part of the conversation.”

* The Orioles have 62 players in camp after Diego Castillo cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk. They exceeded 70 last spring.

“That’s a big camp,” Hyde said.

Some of the more prominent minor leaguers were kept at Twin Lakes Park, including Enrique Bradfield Jr., Dylan Beavers, Jud Fabian, Max Wagner, Mac Horvath, Hudson Haskin, John Rhodes and Billy Cook.

“You definitely want guys to get this major league experience, but we also want to see some of these guys get a lot of at-bats and a lot of innings in the field,” Hyde said. “Don’t want to crowd it too much to allow some guys to really compete for a major league job. That’s really important.

“I think you’re also going to see those guys up here playing in some games, too. Just because they’re maybe not official here in camp, I’m going to try to bring some of those guys over as much as possible to get them some experience here in a major league spring training setting. But yeah, I think it’s more of the competition we had in camp. We felt confident with it."

* Hyde said he’ll wait until Thursday to reveal his starter for Saturday’s exhibition opener against the Red Sox in Sarasota.

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