Félix Bautista was bringing the heat in first save chance since the López trade

When he took the mound at Camden Yards on Friday night in the ninth, right-hander Félix Bautista was trying to hold the Orioles' 1-0 lead over Pittsburgh and pick up his fourth career save. He would get it done and close out the win.

But even though it wasn’t a clean save – he gave up a single and walk with one out – it was a devastating show of power pitching.

Bautista, who ranks among the hardest throwers in the majors, threw 17 fastballs that night, and all 17 were 100.0 mph or more. He threw five pitches 101 mph or more and one that topped at 102 mph. The 17 pitches at 100 or more were the most by an O’s pitcher in a single game in the Statcast era (since 2015). And Bautista became the second reliever in the majors (third occurrence) with that many 100.0+ mph pitches in a game this season, joining Jordan Hicks of the St. Louis Cardinals.

The man they call “The Mountain” has been so big for the Orioles bullpen this season. He pitched at three levels on the O’s farm last year, starting at high Single-A Aberdeen, moving later to Double-A Bowie and ending with Triple-A Norfolk. He has pitched just 28 2/3 career innings on the farm above the high-A level.

And in the minors he struggled with his control, averaging 5.1 walks per nine innings with 10.4 strikeouts. So how did he make such improvement in the bigs to walk just 3.0 per nine with 12.2 strikeouts in 2022? And now he is closing games. That’s amazing.

And Friday he went 17-for-17 in 100 mph heaters. Remarkable.

“Think a lot of it is emotion-based and adrenaline-based. In a moment like that, the adrenaline was really ticking and that helped get the velo up a little bit,” Bautista said of his power pitching display.

“I feel so much more confident right now. Just being more physically and mentally prepared and knowing what to expect out of the season. Going forward, knowing what to expect more, I feel much more confident.”

He is 3-3 with a 1.77 ERA and 0.898 WHIP. Over 45 2/3 innings he has walked 15 and fanned 62.

Opposing batters are hitting .107/.200/.179 (6-for-56) with 25 strikeouts with runners on base against him. Bautista has thrown 108 pitches of 100+ mph this season, ninth-most in the majors this year And his 98.8 mph average fastball velocity ranks in the top one percent in the big leagues, while his 35.8 strikeout percentage ranks in the top two percent, per Statcast.

“More than anything, I feel really thankful that the team is giving me the chance to close games now,” he told me over the weekend with the help of team translator Brandon Quinones. "I felt really good out there and will give 100 percent effort in any chances I get."

He did admit that pitching in a one-run game in the ninth was quite the test. It is different in the ninth when you are the closer.

“Being in that position felt a little bit different, just being in a 1-0 game and high-leverage situation. Felt a little bit different than usual, but nonetheless happy I was able to get the job done,” said Bautista, who produced 11 hitless outings among 13 July appearances as opponents batted .075 (3-for-40).

While Bautista can bring the heat, he is getting a lot of strikeouts with his splitter, which has become a big putaway pitch for him. His whiff rate of 56.4 percent on that pitch (percentage of times players swing at the pitch but miss it completely) leads the majors. Shohei Ohtani is second with a 52.5 percent splitter whiff rate.

So yeah, pretty great company there.

“It’s been a really good pitch for me, Bautista said. "I’m going to try and keep throwing it as much as possible, until they figure something out. Right now it’s my lethal weapon and I don’t plan on that changing anytime soon.”

Bring on the Blue Jays: The Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays will see a lot of each other the rest of this season. They begin a three-game series at Camden Yards tonight. The O's will play Toronto six times in their next 10 games and 15 times over the regular season's last 54 games.

The Birds lost 8-1 to Pittsburgh Sunday as they failed to sweep a second straight three-game series, and their win streak ended at five games.

The O's offense produced just eight runs on 25 hits the last three games and went 5-for-29 with runners in scoring position. 

With a 56-52 record the Orioles have exceeded the win total from each of their last three full seasons. The 2018 club won 47, the 2019 team won 54 and last year's club won 52 games. 

The Orioles would win 84 games at their current win percentage over the full year. That would make for a 32-win improvement year over year. That would be one win fewer than the greatest win gain by the Orioles, year-to-year, in club history. The 1988 team went 54-107, followed by 87-75 in 1989 for a 33-win gain. 

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