ANAHEIM, Calif. – As the Orioles’ road trip moves on to Anaheim for a series this weekend with the Los Angeles Angels, it will, no doubt, be three more games in the big leagues to savor for 26-year-old right-hander Félix Bautista.
The big man with a big arm from the Dominican Republic in the O’s bullpen is a bit of a late bloomer. But for him, better late than never.
Before the 2015 season the Miami Marlins released him, and the Orioles signed him on Aug. 4, 2016. Now, in his seventh season on their watch, he finally arrives in the majors. Bautista slowly made some gains with his command and control, and then he had a breakout 2021 season, pitched at three levels in the minor leagues.
For the player first signed as an international free agent in 2012, it was a long path to the major leagues. But now he’s throwing 99 mph with a nasty split, and the Orioles are thrilled he’s here.
He started last season with high Single-A Aberdeen and then moved to Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk. The hitters got better but he kept getting outs, especially strikeouts. He is an imposing figure on the mound and features sometimes dominant stuff.
“It’s very special for me to be here, after 10 long years in the minors. A lot of hard work went into that and just to be here today is special for me,” Bautista told me during an interview in Oakland with the help of team translator Brandon Quinones.
O’s skipper Brandon Hyde said Bautista’s rise to the majors is a success story for the Orioles player development operation.
“Absolutely. And he is a great story and hats off to our player development people for getting him to be able to pitch in big spots in the big leagues right now," Hyde said. "It’s fun to watch him. He’s a great kid. He’s fun to be around and everybody likes him. He throws 99 also, which helps, with a really good split. I’m enjoying watching him have success and I’ll continue to throw him out there in big parts of games.”
Bautista, who threw a scoreless inning Tuesday at Oakland in his most recent game, has an 1.80 ERA and has allowed four hits and one run with two walks and over five innings, while striking out eight. He’s thrown three scoreless innings his past three games. The guy is averaging 97 mph on his fastball and has a whiff rate of 66.7 percent on his splitter. His whiff rate overall is in the top 27 percent of baseball, per Statcast.
Not bad for a guy who went from Aberdeen to Baltimore in less than a year and picked up his first major league strikeout against Tampa Bay’s Wander Franco April 10.
“It’s been really important the last 12 months just really focusing on getting myself physically and mentally prepared," Bautista said. "And right now things are going really well and happy with how things have gone over the last year.”
This is a pitcher who spent four seasons in the Dominican Summer League, and even last year, when he pitched to a 1.54 ERA between the IronBirds, Baysox and Tides, he was walking too many: 30 in 46 2/3 innings. But he also struck out 77. That arm was just too good to give up on and the O’s kept working with him. Last November, he was added to their 40-man roster.
“They put a large emphasis on working on my command and the overall control of my pitches,” he said of last season on the O’s farm. “Just trying to get me ready to throw first-pitch strikes. That was a big point of emphasis for me and that helped out a ton. And obviously, controlling my emotions. Not trying to overthrow certain pitches. That has been really helpful for me so far this season.”
For now, Bautista is thrilled an organization gave him a second chance after he was let go, and he’s excited about the future.
“Thankfully, after the Marlins let me go, I was really happy the Orioles picked me up," he said. "Happy to have this opportunity to prove myself and show what I can really do. After a lot of hard work, I’m just really blessed to be here today to pitch for the major league club.”
Next stop, Anaheim: The Orioles will play the Los Angeles Angels the next three games as this road trip moves south. The Orioles lost 6-4 at Oakland on Thursday afternoon, and they lost three of four in the series.
As we wrote yesterday, Trey Mancini was ejected in the fourth inning on Thursday and the Orioles offense started to pick up after he was tossed. Mancini hopes that showed his teammates had his back and that they bring some intensity to this series. He said he believes in this lineup and is confident in his teammates.
The pitching matchups show lefty Bruce Zimmermann (0-0, 0.00 ERA) getting the start tonight opposite lefty Reid Detmers (0-0, 8.59 ERA). On Saturday, Spenser Watkins (0-0, 2.25 ERA) pitches against righty Noah Syndergaard (2-0, 1.59 ERA) and Sunday afternoon Chris Ellis (0-0, 0.00 ERA) pitches opposite lefty José Suarez (0-1, 5.19 ERA).
In Anaheim, the Orioles will be greeted by an Angels squad that at 8-5 is in first place in the American League West and tied for the best record in the league. Since losing three of four in their first series versus Houston, the Angels are 7-2.