ST. LOUIS - Getting seven innings last night from rookie Kyle Bradish kept manager Brandon Hyde from tearing through his bullpen. A three-run lead made it necessary to consider closer options with Jorge López on the bereavement list.
Dillon Tate took the ball in the ninth, confirming that he was the first choice – as Hyde indicated in the dugout during batting practice. Félix Bautista inherited a bit of a mess with two runners on base, two outs and the Orioles clinging to a 5-3 lead.
Bautista struck out Tyler O’Neill for his first major league save in his first opportunity.
It probably won’t be his last.
Bautista will get more chances as Hyde’s confidence in him increases. Bautista has allowed three runs in 12 2/3 innings, struck out 16 batters and surrendered only one home run.
The changeup has flashed as an out pitch for the 26-year-old rookie, but the fastball remains his signature. The radar gun tells no lies.
Bautista threw fastballs at 100.5 mph and 101.9 mph last night before striking out O’Neill with an 89 mph slider. Pure filth from the first pitch.
Really impressive considering what he did the previous afternoon.
Bautista was clocked at 101.4 mph and 100.8 mph while facing Kansas City’s MJ Melendez, the highest readings by an Orioles pitcher this season until the team arrived in St. Louis. Anthony Bemboom was behind the plate for it.
“His stuff is an outlier,” Bemboom said. “He’s got electric stuff and it’s been pretty good. He’s been throwing strikes, getting ahead. When he does that, he’s dominant and it’s really fun to catch, because you have a lot of different options, different ways to go.
“I really like catching him. He’s aggressive, knows what he wants to do, goes after guys, and I think he believes how good his stuff is, which is good to see.”
High walk rates in the minors threatened to keep Bautista off the 40-man and opening day rosters. He’s issued five in his 13 appearances.
“I think all of us just reinforce to him to let his stuff play in the zone and go after guys, because when he tunnels his stuff through the middle of the zone, it plays really well, especially his fastball,” Bemboom said. “And everything plays off his fastball really well, so when he can throw his fastball through the middle of the zone, middle to up, and then his breaking ball and changeup play really well off that and it makes it really hard for guys, because they have to commit early to the fastball.”
Bautista came after O’Neill with only heat before the slider, beginning at 99.3 mph and building to 99.9, then hitting triple digits twice. But the changeup has made hitters look foolish, wrecking their timing at the plate.
“It’s a really good pitch,” Bemboom said, “and once you establish the fastball in the zone, guys have to respect it and get ready for it, and that’s when you get the bad, early, weak contact or swing and miss. It helps him out a ton.”
Bautista’s first save came on the same night that Kyle Bradish picked up his first win, the 12th time it’s happened in Orioles history since saves became an official stat in 1969. There were two instances last season – Alexander Wells and Tate, and Marcos Diplán and Tyler Wells.
Travis Lakins Sr. is back on the active roster with López gone at least for the Cardinals series. He was prepared to go down to Triple-A Norfolk, but stayed in Baltimore and became the 27th man for Sunday’s doubleheader, then hopped on the charter to St. Louis.
What must Lakins do to smooth out a rough start to his 2022 season, which includes three home runs – two grand slams – in 8 1/3 innings?
“Just getting people quicker to 0-2, 1-2, and putting people away in five pitches or less. Stop playing around with guys,” he said.
“Working on my fastball location. I’m throwing strikes with my fastball, but it’s just more middle, not to the corners, not to where I want it to be. My off-speed stuff plays. I know that. I’ve seen it play a lot. I’ve got to trust my changeup more. Slider’s getting really good. I think my fastball location’s going to be really big.”