Bautista is rolling but faith in López hasn't stopped

MINNEAPOLIS – If the Orioles encounter a save situation this afternoon against the Rangers to start their homestand, manager Brandon Hyde isn’t likely to shy away from Jorge López.

As long as López is available to pitch after resting yesterday in Minnesota, he’s going to get the ball and try to record a 14th save that eluded him twice against the Twins.

The Orioles aren’t changing closers. López is their guy. And they’ll say it to anyone who’s listening.

The back-to-back walk-off hits against him, the first two home runs he surrendered this season, don’t drain the trust.

“He’s only had a couple tough appearances in the whole half,” Hyde said. “The stuff was still good. The hit that beat him (Saturday) was 99. Middle part of the plate, but the stuff was still there.

“Not going to be perfect through a six-month season and Lopey’s had a couple tough ones, but we look for him to bounce back.”

Anything that happened before Jorge Polanco’s game-tying leadoff homer in the ninth and José Miranda’s single that plated Alex Kirilloff tends to fade into the background, but Félix Bautista can’t be ignored. Not earlier this season, and not Saturday after he inherited two runners in scoring position from Dillon Tate in the eighth.

Bautista struck out Byron Buxton with a 101 mph fastball, Carlos Correa flied to center field to score pinch-runner Gilberto Celestino and Max Kepler struck out.

The Orioles carried a 3-2 lead into the ninth and dropped it, but Bautista had reliable hands again, his 10th hold tying him for the second-most among rookies in the majors.

Bautista hasn’t allowed an earned run in 19 consecutive appearances, lowering his ERA to 1.42 and WHIP to 1.011 in 31 2/3 innings.

“He’s come a long way,” said reliever Nick Vespi, a teammate of Bautista’s at Single-A Delmarva and every step up the ladder. “He’s always had that 100 mph fastball. Back in low A, from what I can remember, that’s one of the only pitches he had, and then he developed two other really good pitches. He’s able to control the zone, looks like he’s throwing whatever he wants to throw, and then he’s got that wipeout splitter and breaking ball, too, off that 100 mph fastball.”

“It doesn’t look like a fun at-bat,” said first baseman Trey Mancini.

“After I came out of the game (Saturday) I was in the training room getting my elbow looked at, and I see 101 and then like a disgusting splitter the next pitch. I don’t know how you really adjust like that as a hitter. It’s elite stuff, it’s really impressive, and he’s done such a good job for us this year. And I always forget that he’s a rookie, too. He made his debut in Tampa earlier this year and it doesn’t seem like it at all. He’s turned himself into one of the better relief pitchers in baseball.”

Bautista is an important high-leverage bullpen arm, and he recorded saves on May 10 and 12 in St. Louis after the Orioles placed López on the bereavement list. But don’t get any ideas.

Not yet, anyway.

López is in a slump, but teammates keep rallying around him. None are pushing for a new closer.

“Jorge is one of the leaders in the bullpen,” Vespi said. “To see him go through that kind of sucked, but he’s going to bounce back from it. We all believe in him. He’s done a heck of a job all year.

“It’s not necessarily that we look out for him. He looks out of us and keeps us in check. Just hang with him and he’s going to go get them next time.”

Correa hugged López yesterday as the reliever walked to the bullpen, and then put an arm around his shoulder. Opponents also are sympathetic and supportive.

“Jorge’s our guy. We all love him,” Mancini said.

“Two games do not define anything. Look at his body of work this year, look at what he’s done. One of the best relief pitchers in baseball, probably an All-Star, as he should be, and that’s who he is. Two games don’t mean anything.

“We love Jorge, we trust him, and he’s going to be just fine.”


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