The Orioles held a team meeting this afternoon to discuss closer Félix Bautista. His loss to an elbow injury. How to proceed.
Also, the sensitive nature of it, with one of the team’s most popular players receiving painful news that resonated through a normally jovial clubhouse.
“It’s been a tough day up this point,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “Félix has been such a massive part of our team, the best closer in the game. It’s been amazing to watch him do what he does. Last night sucked, that’s the bottom line, and we’re hoping for the best for him. I just feel for him. We’ve got to move forward, have guys step up, go from there.
“I was with him this afternoon a little bit. Obviously, very disappointed, upset, and rightfully so. It was hard to watch him get the news. I just feel for the guy. I love the guy so much that it’s hard to watch somebody in pain like that.”
Basically, the message delivered today before batting practice. Give them information rather than have them receive it from the outside.
“Wanted them to hear it from me and how we were going to get through this,” Hyde said. “He needs our support right now. He’s loved by the guys in there, so I just wanted them to know what was going on.”
Bautista walked off the mound last night with two outs and two strikes, his final pitch, a 102.3 mph fastball, perhaps his last in 2023 and beyond.
The club is describing the issue as a “right UCL injury,” with Bautista undergoing more testing today. Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias, meeting with the media in the dugout, called it “some degree of injury.”
“It is less than 24 hours right now and that’s all I’ve got,” Elias said.
“He’s going on the IL. We don’t have a plan beyond that. We have not firmed up any time of timetable or anything of that nature. We’re bringing up DL (Hall), putting him in the bullpen and trying to win this game tonight. And then, work on doing the right thing for Félix.”
The club won’t dismiss the possibility of Bautista pitching again in 2023, but only because it’s too soon to know. The worst-case scenario is ligament-reconstructive, or “Tommy John” surgery.
“Early indications from the diagnostics that we’ve done is he’s got some degree of injury to his ulnar collateral ligament,” Elias said. “I think anyone can go on Google and find the spectrum of outcomes or possibilities that that might entail. I really am not informed or confident yet at this point to add to that. That’s all we really have and know right now.”
The task of replacing an All-Star closer who’s 8-2 with a 1.48 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 33 saves in 56 appearances, with 110 strikeouts in 61 innings, is daunting at the least.
“Look, Félix Bautista's absence, even if it’s a short one, is not something that’s easy to cover,” Elias said. “He’s the best reliever in baseball right now. But we do have many talented arms. We’ve got Hall back healthy, we’ve got other high-velocity, high-stuff guys emerging here, and this is a talented group, a very resilient group, and some guys are going to get an opportunity to really make their impact here for the next foreseeable stretch of games.
“I’m excited for DL that he’s made it all the way back. He had a rough year himself starting off and he put a lot of good work in. I think you’ll see, he looks great, and it’s a big opportunity for him.”
Even bigger is having Bautista away from the bullpen as the Orioles try to win their division, the lead over Tampa Bay at three games today.
“It’s something that you try not to imagine throughout the season just because of the impact he was having and the dominance that he was exhibiting,” Elias said. “But this is baseball, this is pitching, and we are far from the only team and far from the only AL East team to face adversity in the form of injury to star, impact players. The group’s going to rally around itself and we’ll figure out ways to do the best that we can for however long his absence is.
“I’m most sad for Félix himself. This was just a dream season that he is having, and made the All-Star team and the numbers he was putting up, but it’s all temporary.”
The Orioles are finalizing the diagnostic testing and everything else they want to do. Hyde mentioned how they’re still “unclear on some things.”
Elias said the time can be helpful.
“Sometimes, to do those right on the heels within hours of an injury can be a little misleading because there’s inflammation or whatever,” Elias said. “And we want to get the appropriate number of opinions and coordinate with his camp. It’s just something that takes longer than 19 hours for me to come out and explain to the public, so we’re going to do our full medical process and come up with a great plan.”
Tyler Wells is headed to the bullpen when the Orioles recall him. They’re being careful as he adjusts to the unpredictability that comes with the role and the possibility of pitching on back-to-back nights.
Another pitcher can be added to the expanded roster in September. Though reinforcements are likely to come internally past the trade deadline, players can be claimed on waivers. They'd need to be signed by Aug. 31 for playoff eligibility.
“I do think if we don’t, even in light of this injury, I feel like we have a number of options to get us down the stretch, with some guys kind of emerging, settling in, getting healthy, guys in Triple-A,” Elias said. “You’re always looking for more, but if this is the group we have, we’re ready to go to battle with this group for the rest of September and hopefully beyond.”
Hall can be a closer option. He provides a power arm with high strikeout capabilities in any role.
“Hyder’s going to use him when he wants to use him,” Elias said. “I think especially now, our closer being on the IL, we’re probably going to see some of the patterns that we’ve gotten accustomed to get shifted a little bit, and we’ll see how it shakes out. You saw a guy like Jacob Webb in a setup role within a couple of days. It’s going to be up to Hyde and DL and the hitters, and we’ll see what happens.”
Elias spent a few days in Norfolk and watched the former first-round draft pick.
“I really am confident and hopeful that he’s going to be a shot in the arm,” Elias said.
Said Hyde: “We’re excited about DL being here. He’s pitched well of late in Norfolk and hopefully he can be a big part of our ‘pen or just kind of fit in. He’s got a special arm. We saw that last year in September, and just want him to fit in, compete, throw a bunch of strikes and let his stuff work.”
The Orioles haven’t given up on Hall as a starter, with Elias saying this “is not a career move.”
“We’ll see after the season, but he’s going to be a reliever for the rest of the year,” Elias said. “I think it made a ton of sense on a number of levels that we did that, just given where he was in his development arc, and then having the missed time (in spring training) on top of that coming into this. And the needs of our team right now, where we are in the calendar, this was kind of a no-brainer to put him in the bullpen once he got healthy. But we’ll revisit that in spring training next year.”
The fastball that Bautista threw to Rockies pinch-hitter Michael Toglia registered 102.3 mph. A sudden dip in velocity is the usual red flag. He still brought the heat, but he tumbled toward first base and began flexing the hand.
“You could tell something was not right, the way he finished there,” Hyde said. “I didn’t know if it was his knee or a lower-half injury or what it was. But when he turned back around, I knew something wasn’t right. You’re hoping for the best when you go out there.”
“It just looked to me that one particular pitch may have been some unfortunate movement pattern or something. I don’t know,” Elias said. “He was not having any issues prior to that pitch.”
Hyde won’t anoint one reliever as the closer. He isn’t ready to dive too deeply into his plans, with the injury so fresh.
“Like tonight, I’ll match up the best I can,” he said.
The idea of replacing Bautista with one guy is foolish. This is going to be a group effort. And Hyde is confident that it won’t shatter the club.
“Our guys, we have unbelievable character in our room,” Hyde said. “You guys talk about how we bounce back from tough losses and adversity, and this team’s been through a lot. This is just another one of those things.
“Obviously, people are disappointed and feel bad for him. We’re hoping for the best news-wise. But we’ve done a great job of dealing with adversity as a team, and I expect guys to step up and pick up the pieces for him.”
Left-hander Danny Coulombe did his part last night by replacing Bautista and recording the one-pitch save.
“He kind of fell off funny on that pitch and we all kind of noticed that he grimaced a little bit and just was walking around the mound,” Coulombe said. “I knew that guy, he’s a lefty hitter, and so I knew there would be a chance that it would be me if he had to come out of the game. I’m just glad I could get it done, but you’re ultimately worried about your teammate and just hoping that he’s OK.
“It’s just so unique. His fastball is so unique. From that arm slot, there’s not many guys who can throw 95. He throws 102. Guys who throw 100 generally don’t have that unique ability to throw a splitter and that fastball. There’s nobody like him.”
Players shared the same reaction as head athletic trainer Brian Ebel bolted from the dugout and Bautista walked off the field with him.
“Obviously, you hope for the best,” Coulombe said. “You can’t replace a guy who’s an All-Star. He’s a Cy Young candidate. But you’ve got to keep going.
“We all trust each other, we all know that we’re going to have to step up. He’s invaluable, but we’ve got to keep going and keep trusting ourselves and trust each other and keep grinding.”
The Orioles lost their closer and Yennier Cano lost a close friend. The ride to the ballpark felt weird without Bautista, who handled the music.
“It's super sad seeing him come out of the game,” Cano said via interpreter Brandon Quinones. “He’s one of my best friends on the team, he’s a huge part of this ballclub. To see what happened yesterday was frustrating to say the least. When it all went down I felt chills go through my body.”
Cano also said Bautista’s exit was “one of the most difficult and sad moments I’ve gone through in my major league career so far.” But he must push it aside, understanding how he’s got to try to fill at least some of the void.
“I feel comfortable doing that (closing),” he said. "Honestly, I feel comfortable doing whatever the team asks me, really. But I feel a little uncomfortable because it's Félix’s role, that’s his spot. It will feel a little weird just going out there in the ninth and thinking to myself, ‘He should be out here.’ But at the end of the day, whatever the team needs from me, I’ll be willing to do. But hopefully he’s able to come back quickly and get back in there.”
* The club hasn’t decided whether John Means, whose rehab assignment moved to Triple-A Norfolk last night, will be used as a starter or reliever next month.
“He had a really good game in Bowie and he had a good game in Norfolk,” Elias said. “I do think that there’s signs he could still shake off some more rust, but he’s looking very good and is still primed to join this team. But, as we just learned last night, best-laid plans in baseball and on a day-to-day basis, what his role is going to be exactly, it’s foolish of me to waste too much time speculating until we get to the day.”
* Outfielder Heston Kjerstad, the second-overall pick in the 2020 draft, has entered the conversation for a call-up next month. He’s a candidate to join the Orioles for the stretch run. But Elias warned that “there are other position players, too, who could make sense.”
“It sounds kind of crazy, but things change day-to-day,” Elias said. “We get a little injury to some particular position player or something, it’s going to necessitate something that I’m not foreseeing right now, but Heston is having a wonderful season, especially given the context of everything that’s brought him to this point. He looks great. He hasn’t necessarily gone through or seen everything that he could or will see in Triple-A, so it’s still not a waste from a development standpoint that he’s getting those at-bats.”
* Norfolk catcher Anthony Bemboom and High-A Aberdeen catcher Samuel Basallo are going on the concussion injured list.
* The White Sox are starting right-handers Michael Kopech, Jesse Scholtens and Dylan Cease in the three-game series that starts Monday night at Camden Yards.
For the Orioles
Adley Rutschman C
Gunnar Henderson SS
Anthony Santander DH
Ryan Mountcastle 1B
Ryan O’Hearn RF
Austin Hays LF
Cedric Mullins CF
Ramón Urías 3B
Adam Frazier 2B
Kyle Bradish RHP