Bautista returns, Lester has big day as O's beat Pirates (plus roster moves)

BRADENTON, Fla. – It had to be a pleasing sight to everyone in an Orioles uniform today as they played the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton. Closer Félix Bautista was back on the mound and was touching 99 mph and throwing pitches by hitters in his spring debut.

To better control exactly when he would pitch today, the Orioles had Bautista start the game and would let him throw as many as 25 pitches. He needed just 15 in a 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts. His fastball averaged 97.9 mph and topped at 99.0. He looked as good as he had last year.

“Fastball velocity was there, good splits,” manager Brandon Hyde said after the game. "His first time out and it looked like he had been out there for a while. Real positive for today.

"Let's see how he is tomorrow and after his next few outings, but today went as well as it possibly could."

The Orioles won the game 7-6 heading into an off-day on Wednesday to improve their spring record to 2-1-1 versus Pittsburgh and 8-9-2 for the spring overall.

Bautista had thrown by his count four-to-six bullpen sessions and two live batting practice sessions leading into today’s debut.

Bautista had a slower start to camp than other pitchers as he continued to rehab his left knee and strengthen his right shoulder. He went 4-4 with an ERA of 2.19 for the 2022 Orioles and saved 15 games. In a bullpen that will already be missing Dillon Tate on Opening Day, the Orioles are very much hopeful the guy they call, “the Mountain” will be a go in Boston on March 30.

“I do think so, I think the possibility is definitely there now that I’ve made an appearance,” Bautista said via team translator Brandon Quinones after his outing. “With about three or four more outings I’ll be ready to go for Opening Day.”

His day started against Pittsburgh shortstop O’Neil Cruz, who he struck out on three pitches, two splitters. Bryan Reynolds then grounded out and Bautista won a seven-pitch battle with Ji-Man Choi with a called strikeout on a 97 mph fastball.

“I felt really good, really confident. I felt like I did a really good job of attacking the zone. My secondary pitches worked well. Felt really good how it went. The goal was 25 pitches, I only threw 14 or 15 and that was enough for today,” he said.

Bautista threw 10 fastballs and five splitters with Pittsburgh swinging at four of them and whiffing on two of those swings. His split averaged 87 mph per Statcast.

Bautista said physically all is well.

“I do feel really good and really confident about how everything is going and where my body is at,” he said and told reporters his next outing will be Friday in Fort Myers against Minnesota.

On offense, the Orioles scored five times off lefty Rich Hill in the top of the second to lead 5-0. Josh Lester started the rally with the first of his two triples today and scored on Daz Cameron’s sac fly. Later in the inning, a Coby Mayo RBI double off the glove of the center fielder made it 2-0 and Colton Cowser’s grounder scored a run. Terrin Vavra’s sac fly made it 4-0 and Adley Rutschman’s single plate run No. 5.

"I thought we had nine really good at-bats that inning, nine in a row," said Hyde. "We had trouble with Rich Hill last year. I know this is spring training but fun to watch our guys take nine good at-bats in a row off a veteran guy."

Lester went 3-for-4 and is batting .387. He hit four balls today between 102.4 and 105.5 mph. He is 11-for-19 in his past six games. 

“Wow,” said Hyde. “He is hitting every ball on the nose. Love the at-bats he takes the balanced approach and the way he uses the whole field. Squaring up almost everything right now. Fun to watch him. Love the competition that is going on with those guys for the last few spots on our roster.”

The O’s broke a 5-5 tie in the seventh on Lester’s second triple to make it 6-5 and he scored the seventh run on Cameron’s grounder producing his second RBI of the game.

O’s starting rotation candidate Tyler Wells feels he is throwing better than the results we are seeing right now. He followed Bautista to the mound today and fanned three of the first four batters he faced. But then five straight batters reached in the Pittsburgh third and Kyle Dowdy came on to get the inning’s last out.

Because they can do so in spring training, Wells re-entered the game in the fourth to continue to build his pitch count. He got outs around a walk and then was replaced by Ofreidy Gomez.

So Wells went 2 1/3 innings allowing four hits and five runs and his spring ERA is 11.57. He built up to 63 pitches, throwing 40 for strikes.

He said he goes beyond the box score in evaluating his camp.

“I don’t think the box score tells the whole story. I was getting some groundballs when I needed them and unfortunately, they were in, you know, tough spots to get to. I got the result I was looking for but it found a hole. The walks are something that I obviously don’t want. They were my first walks of spring but that’s two too many.

“I don’t feel like I am far off from where I need to be to be very dominant. I think the fastball has been great, changeup is still coming along as far as location goes. Curve and slider have come a long way. I think everything is there and showing itself. Now it’s just trying to put the pieces together," Wells said. 

Lefty Bruce Zimmermann pitched the final four innings today and officially got the win. He allowed one run and five hits with one walk and one strikeout on 44 pitches. Zimmermann has a 3.75 spring ERA. 

Lewin Diaz was in the original lineup, but was a late scratch and Hyde said he has left shoulder soreness but didn't believe it was anything too troublesome.

After tomorrow's off day, lefty Cole Irvin starts for the Orioles Thursday night at home against Toronto. Kyle Bradish had been pitching on a schedule where he could go Thursday, but Hyde indicated we should not read anything into that. Bradish could still pitch in that game or on a back field.

"We are starting to line things up, that is the bottom line. We are not pushing Bradish back for any reason," he said. "Starting to line things up as we get closer here. That is all there is to that."

Roster moves: Following today's game the Orioles optioned infielder Joey Ortiz to minor league camp and reassigned shortstop Jackson Holliday, their top draft pick last year, to minor league camp. They also reassigned to the minors right-hander Kyle Dowdy and infielder Connor Norby.

They have 51 players on their camp roster, 36 from the 40-man roster, and 15 non-roster invitees.



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