Bautista on surgically repaired elbow: "Honestly, it really does feel a lot better" (Angels claim Soto)

SARASOTA, Fla. – Félix Bautista won’t give up on 2024.

The closer remains open to pitching late this season if the Orioles need him, but they won’t let it happen.

They just want him available for the first game next season.

Bautista said via interpreter Brandon Quinones that his right elbow feels good after a recent follow-up procedure to remove scar tissue and improve range of motion.

“Honestly, it really does feel a lot better,” Bautista said.

The timeline to begin throwing remains the same – six months after his October ligament-reconstructive surgery. The Orioles moved Bautista to the 60-day injured list earlier this week to make room for outfielder Peyton Burdick on the 40-man roster.

Interviewed in January at the new Dominican Republic academy, Bautista said Opening Day 2025 was the ultimate goal but “I don’t want to set a limit on myself, either.”

“If I’m ready by the end of the season, then I want to be ready for that, as well,” he said. “Ultimately, that’s not my decision, but my goal is just to be ready as soon as possible.”

Asked again today, Bautista said, “If I’m feeling good and everything’s looking well for me to come back before that, then we’ll see.”

His eagerness is understandable. Bautista is a competitor and he could only watch as his teammates clinched a playoff berth and the division title.

“It was difficult, but at the end of the day it was something that I couldn’t really control,” he said. “I just tried to give the best emotional support to the team that I could and be there for them in any way that I could.”

The Orioles delayed Bautista’s surgery in an attempt to get him on the Division Series roster, but they ran out of time.

“At the time, we still weren’t sure if surgery was absolutely necessary,” Bautista said. “It wasn’t until a second round of testing, we realized that, all right, maybe it’s worst than we thought. And then, that’s when the decision to have surgery came around.”

Bautista hasn’t altered his workout routine after the follow-up surgery. He’s able to perform exercises on his elbow, shoulder and lower body.

He’s also done some research on his surgery and rehab.

“I actually have had a few friends who had Tommy John as well,” he said, “so I’ve been able to talk to them a little bit about what the process has looked like for them.”

Bautista was named the American League’s Reliever of the Month three times last season and won the award as top reliever after going 8-2 with a 1.48 ERA and 0.918 WHIP in 56 games and averaging 16.2 strikeouts per nine innings. He was in the Cy Young conversation before sustaining his injury on Aug. 25.

Manager Brandon Hyde must navigate a full season without him.

“He’s a huge part of our success the last couple years and won us a lot of games last year,” Hyde said. “I am pleased with how our guys responded once he got hurt last year and how guys stepped up in different types of roles. I had no idea what was going to happen, but I think our guys really rallied around each other and rallied around him to win games that we should have won, and we did.

“With missing him, he’s a big loss but other guys need to step up. And signed Craig Kimbrel, also. But we’ll always be thinking about him.”

Kimbrel is the closer entering the season. It isn’t a committee.

“We’ll start the year with Craig closing out games for us,” Hyde said, “and hopefully he can stay there.”

Cole Irvin’s likely move back into the rotation and the DL Hall trade has left the Orioles with fewer left-handed relievers.

Cionel Pérez and Danny Coulombe are locks. Bruce Zimmermann, Nick Vespi, Keegan Akin, Tucker Davidson and Andrew Suárez are in the mix.

“There are some open spots in our bullpen,” Hyde said. “We’ve done some individual meetings, gotten through the majority of pitchers at this point, and talked about the opportunity’s there to win a job out of camp, and hopefully these guys throw the ball well in spring and make some tough choices for us.”

* The Orioles moved their workouts indoors this morning due to a constant rain that began yesterday evening.

The infield dirt on the stadium field and the back fields is buried beneath puddles.

“There’s not a whole lot you can do out on the field right now,” Hyde said, “so we’re hoping for a window of some sort, but if not, we’re just going to be in the cage all day.”

* Corbin Burnes threw live batting practice yesterday and impressed hitters who tried to square him up.

One veteran said the batters need to anticipate where the ball’s going before he throws it or it’s nearly impossible to make solid contact.

“He threw the ball really well, first time throwing to hitters,” Hyde said. “I think you could see from our hitters’ reactions that his stuff was really good. Looked similar to how he looked against us in Milwaukee last year when he threw really well. He’s got great stuff.”

* Kyle Bradish played catch again today, his second time since beginning his throwing progression on Friday.

Bradish said his arm felt good after his first session.

* The Angels claimed infielder Livan Soto off waivers from the Orioles.

The Orioles designated Soto for assignment two days ago while claiming infielder Diego Castillo off waivers from the Phillies.

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