Late bloomer on mound for O's at end of the games in St. Louis

Can we call a pitcher who was released by one organization and spent all of his first six seasons - when he wasn’t hurt - in short-season ball but is now in the majors a late bloomer? Can we call that a run-on sentence?

Probably, but it’s hard to be concise at times about the story of right-hander Félix Bautista, a hard-throwing pitcher from the Dominican Republic who made the Orioles roster for the first time at age 26. The same pitcher was touching 102 mph and getting his first two major league saves during the St. Louis series. The same pitcher who was pitching for high Single-A Aberdeen at this time last year.

An overnight sensation at age 26?

Hardly. It took Bautista a lot of time and hard work to get to the point he could get a four-out save in front of 35,000 on the road against a playoff contender.

He needed to throw 24 pitches Thursday afternoon to close out the game with the help of a sensational catch and inning-ending double play from shortstop Jorge Mateo. But Bautista got it done, throwing nine pitches at 100 mph or more, per Statcast, and throwing 14 at 98 mph or more. His average velocity this year heading into that outing was a robust 97.7 mph. His average velocity in the game Thursday was 100.3.

Yep, special performance to cap a day of a special performance by the O’s bullpen. If Tuesday was the game of the year to date, this one may have topped it.

Bautista’s story in the pros began when the Miami Marlins signed him in November 2012. But in January 2015 they released him, and he didn’t pitch all that year or most of the next one. The Orioles signed him on Aug. 4, 2016 and he pitched just 6 2/3 innings the rest of that year. Yep, bet you didn’t know the 2022 season is his seventh in the Baltimore organization.

Heck, he didn’t finally make it out of short-season ball until he pitched for low Single-A Delmarva during the 2019 season. Then when he needed to keep pitching the most to advance the development he was finally showing, there was no minor league season in 2020. But he blitzed through three levels of the O’s farm last year, starting in Aberdeen, moving to Double-A Bowie in June and to Triple-A Norfolk in August.

For the big man with the mild manner, it was a very long road, but he speeded through the final laps to the major leagues.

“It’s very special for me to be here, after 10 long years in the minors. A lot of hard work went into that, and just to be here today is special for me,” Bautista told me during an interview in Oakland with the help of team translator Brandon Quinones.

O’s skipper Brandon Hyde said Bautista’s rise to the majors is a success story for the Orioles player development operation.

“Absolutely. And he is a great story and hats off to our player development people for getting him to be able to pitch in big spots in the big leagues right now," Hyde said. "It’s fun to watch him. He’s a great kid. He’s fun to be around and everybody likes him. He throws 99 also, which helps, with a really good split. I’m enjoying watching him have success, and I’ll continue to throw him out there in big parts of games.”

He throws harder than 99 now. Just ask the Cardinals. Around one of the worst games of the year, the Orioles played two of their best. Neither got away at the end, thanks to the pitcher who took forever to get out of short-season ball and spent almost two years without pitching an inning.

But over 14 innings as a rookie this year, he is 0-1 with a 1.93 ERA and the two saves. He’s allowed 10 hits with five walks, 16 strikeouts, 1.07 WHIP and .208 batting average against.

As recently as last year, it was looking like he would not harness his command and control enough to do what he is now doing. But he kept working. A walk rate of 6.00 in 2021 with Aberdeen and 7.42 at Bowie. But late last year it got better and was 4.42 at Norfolk, and he found his way to the Orioles' 40-man roster in November.

Now he is throwing 102 and getting big league saves.

That’s a great story, and Bautista seems like a great guy. Easy to root for.

And the 2022 Orioles continue to look like they are turning a corner and headed for better days right before our eyes.

“Thankfully, after the Marlins let me go, I was really happy the Orioles picked me up," Bautista said. "Happy to have this opportunity to prove myself and show what I can really do. After a lot of hard work, I’m just really blessed to be here today to pitch for the major league club.”

Rodriguez's latest: In five innings against Memphis on Thursday, O's top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez gave up just three hits, two walks and one run while recording eight strikeouts, throwing a total of 80 pitches. It marked the fifth time in seven Triple-A starts that Rodriguez has allowed two earned runs or fewer.

Over his past two games, Rodriguez has allowed one run in 10 1/3 innings, lowering his ERA from 4.15 to 3.09. His WHIP for the year is 1.00.

Catcher Adley Rutschman hit a solo homer for the Tides. But he's batting just .200 (4-for-20) in six Norfolk games, and is 1-for-10 in three games this week. 

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