Hyde sifting through collection of closer candidates if Bautista isn't ready for opener

SARASOTA, Fla. – Being two days into workouts prevents Orioles manager Brandon Hyde from identifying many rock-solid certainties, including roles for some pitchers who are in the starters mix. However, it isn’t too soon for him to wonder how he’s going to replace Félix Bautista if the big right-hander isn’t on the opening day roster.

Bautista threw a bullpen session earlier today, but he’s on a rehabilitation program for the left knee that he injured in late September, and the Orioles are working to strengthen his right shoulder after a bout with fatigue that limited his use down the stretch.

Whether Bautista is in Boston on March 30 depends on more than his health. He must reach an innings total that satisfies the Orioles after being withheld from earlier exhibition games.

“He could be able to break for Opening Day,” executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said yesterday, “depending on how much of a ramp-up we’re able to get him.”

Bautista became the Orioles’ saves leader with 15 after they traded Jorge López to the Twins at the deadline. López totaled 19 during his first All-Star season.

Dillon Tate is headed to the injured list and could miss the entire month of April. He’s out after recording five saves last summer.

“I think that you think about your roster and you talk about the possibilities,” Hyde said this morning. “Not having Tate to start the season, he’s a backend guy, a high-leverage guy for us. That gives an opportunity for somebody else. I’d like to see somebody else step up.”

Maybe it’s Bryan Baker, who recorded his first career save in Game 1 of the Oct. 5 doubleheader against the Blue Jays and didn’t allow a run in his last 11 appearances.

Cionel Pérez notched his first career save on June 12 in Kansas City and finished the season with a 1.40 ERA in 66 appearances. He surrendered only two home runs.

The drawback to using Pérez as the closer is losing him in high-leverage matchup situations earlier in games. Important outs must be registered to hold leads.

“Cionel pitched big innings for us all year,” Hyde said. “Those two would definitely be guys I would consider pitching at the end of the game.”

Another reliever could emerge – Givens has closing experience but is most effective between the sixth and eighth innings – or Hyde might go closer by committee and let the games and availability dictate his moves.  

“You think back to last year at this time,” he said. “I didn’t know Bryan Baker was going to be pitching in big spots for us, the second half of the year especially. Bautista, I hadn’t even seen him pitch on the mound yet. So that would be great if we had a couple more awesome stories like Cionel and Bautista and Bake, like we had last year. We just don’t know at this point.”

Too early to decide. Not too early to wonder about it.

* Hyde isn’t ready to share whether Tyler Wells could go back to the bullpen, where he impressed in 2021 as a Rule 5 pick.

“Not even thinking about that right now,” Hyde said.

Wells switched to a starting role last season and reeled off 17 straight consecutive starts with three earned runs or fewer allowed while registering a 3.38 ERA and 1.078 WHIP in the first half.

“He’s definitely a rotation candidate from what he did last year right now,” Hyde said. “I think as we get closer to breaking, we’ll figure out where we are roster-wise and we’ll see who’s going to break with us and who’s not. But I want to keep all these guys definitely in their minds to think they’re rotation candidates and they’re going to get an opportunity to start.”

Hyde was reminded of a past philosophy that starters bumped from crowded rotations could benefit from launching their major league careers in the bullpen, as the Orioles did with Storm Davis, Dennis Martinez and many others.

“I think starting pitching's so valuable. Not that bullpen guys are not. They definitely are. But being in the rotation is so valuable that you want to give guys that you feel like have an opportunity to start the opportunity to,” Hyde said.

“For example, we had Tyler Wells two years ago bullpen, thought it helped him rotation-wise. I think it could help DL (Hall) too, going back in the rotation and the experiences he had. Yankee Stadium, closing out a game in a big spot. Those are things that are going to help when he goes back into the rotation. I just think we’re living in a different era now and starter innings are a lot different than they were 20-30 years ago.”

There isn’t one blueprint or set of instructions.

“I think it’s totally individual around the league,” Hyde said. “I don’t think anybody’s figured out how to keep starters the healthiest. We’re doing the best we can.”

* The new rules are forcing adjustments to the usual spring training setup.

“We went over, part of our rotations is pickoffs and talking about the new rules with that,” Hyde said. “We haven’t done the clock yet in our bullpens, but that will be coming pretty soon. We want our guys getting comfortable with that first and then we’ll start implementing the pitch clock. But mainly just going over the limited amount of pickoffs we can do now and just make sure guys are aware.”

* The first bullpen session today on the four mounds featured, from left to right, Wells, Grayson Rodriguez, Spenser Watkins and Keegan Akin. Rodriguez was paired with Adley Rutschman, which obviously drew the media’s interest.

* Hyde said Means’ half-mound session on Monday isn’t confirmed, “but he’s doing well on his progression.”

Elias indicated again yesterday that July is the earliest that Means is expected to return.

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