In the month since Félix Bautista flexed his right hand and walked off the Camden Yards mound, the Orioles have held out hope their All-Star closer would be able to return this season despite the partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow.
Saturday, that possibility came to a public end as executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias announced that Bautista is done for the year and will undergo Tommy John elbow reconstruction. The procedure has a typical recovery time of 12 to 18 months, meaning Bautista will likely miss the 2024 season, as well.
Elias added the Orioles have also agreed to a two-year deal with Bautista, covering next season and 2025, which would have been his first year of arbitration eligibility.
“We’re going to miss the hell out of the guy,” Elias said.
Bautista, 28, was baseball’s best reliever before the injury, with a 1.48 ERA, 33 saves and 110 strikeouts in 61 innings. His 46.4% strikeout rate led the sport and was one of the best in major league history.
On Aug. 26, a day after Bautista exited after throwing a 102.3 mph fastball, Elias said Bautista had “some degree” of UCL injury. On Sept. 11, Elias clarified that Bautista’s ligament was partially torn, with the update coming in the wake of the hulking reliever nicknamed “The Mountain” playing catch during the Orioles’ preceding road trip. His workload slowly increased, to the point Bautista threw in the bullpen before Baltimore’s Sept. 17 game, working in fastballs, splitters and sliders, before a 25-pitch live bullpen session Tuesday in which he faced a batter from the Camden Yards mound.
Bautista hasn’t been spotted throwing on the field in any form since. Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said after the live bullpen session that the Orioles were “running out of time a little bit,” but offered little else in terms of answers beyond saying the most important element was how Bautista felt the next day. Hyde had no updates on Bautista on Wednesday. Bautista hasn’t spoken with reporters in the month since his injury.
“We just ran out of time,” Elias said, noting nothing changed in Bautista’s situation and this was in some ways an inevitability, even if he returned this year.
“It became evident to us that this wasn’t going to get where it needed to go.”
The Orioles have not landed on a set closer in Bautista’s absence. Yennier Cano, Bautista’s close friend and a fellow All-Star, initially filled the role, but Hyde has used matchups of late, often deploying Cano in the game’s most crucial situation regardless of whether that comes in the ninth inning. Five Baltimore relievers have earned a save since Bautista’s injury.
The unit has struggled in Bautista’s absence, seeing its collective ERA rise and strikeout rate plummet, though those measures are partly a product of a recent stretch of 17 straight games. The Orioles’ hopes of a deep playoff run are certainly hampered without Bautista. Hyde called upon Bautista in the eighth inning five times, and each time he earned the save. In four road games that went extra innings, Bautista pitched a scoreless ninth then came back out for the bottom of the 10th after Baltimore scored in the top half, managing to strand the automatic runner for a victory.
But the Orioles have managed to play well without him, winning the American League East and finishing with the American League’s best record. They begin postseason play with Game 1 of the AL Division Series next Saturday at Camden Yards. Saturday’s news confirms Bautista won’t be part of their roster.
This story will be updated.
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