Orioles trying to get young pitchers through September grind

Félix Bautista might not have hit the proverbial wall this month, but the energy to go around or scale it is running low.

He isn’t alone, of course. The grind of a full season is harshest on the ones who haven’t experienced it, and he’s got some company inside the Orioles’ clubhouse.

Bautista is a rookie. Don’t let his age and size fool you. And he admitted after Saturday night’s loss, when he was charged with four runs in 1 1/3 innings and blew his first save since the Jorge López trade, that he felt “a little bit tired.”

“But I have no doubt,” he added, “I can finish the season off strong.”

Who really knows? It’s the proper mindset with nothing to fall back on that ensures it.

Bautista has made 64 appearances and totaled 64 2/3 innings, 18 more than in 2021, when he pitched for three affiliates. The leverage situations never have been higher.

Bryan Baker understands. His entire major league catalogue consisted of one inning with the Blue Jays last summer. He’s logged 64 2/3 this year.

The minor league schedules don’t usually extend much beyond August, and they didn’t exist in 2020 due to the pandemic, which also impacted last season.

“And the weird spring training we had this year with the CBA and all that kind of stuff,” added veteran Jordan Lyles. “A lot of funky spring trainings, a lot of ramping up quick. It’s always a concern for especially pitchers.”

All of it is impactful to the rookies.

“I think everybody this time of year, especially for some of us younger guys that haven’t had the full seasons yet in the big leagues, I’m sure we’re all feeling it a little bit,” Baker said. “Especially for me, I didn’t even have a COVID season, and a lot of these other guys didn’t, either. And last year was a shorter year in Triple-A and the minor leagues, so if you weren’t up here, you probably weren’t getting as many innings.

“I’m sure we’re all feeling a little fatigued right now, but I think we’re all in a good spot, especially with the starters the last week or so kind of helping us out a little bit. And it’s a little easier to get the energy going in these important games, just get a little boost of adrenaline in these spots. I think we’ll be all right for these last couple weeks.”

The Orioles’ bullpen ranked eighth in the majors before yesterday at 585 1/3 innings. Bautista was 15th in appearances among pitchers and tied for 19th in innings among relievers – putting him third on the team behind Keegan Akin (75) and Dillon Tate (70).

Players can train harder and try to prepare their bodies and minds for the longer season, but they have to live it. There’s no substitute for the experience.

“There’s not much you can do,” Baker said. “I think I threw 15 innings in 2020 overall. Last year, with the expanded rosters in Triple-A, there weren’t many innings to go around, especially if you were on a 40-man roster. So, I think I came out with 42 innings in games last year.

“There’s not much you can do except in the offseason besides try to put your body through as much as you can to make sure it’ going to hold up deep into September, like it is now. It’s a challenge, but we’ve got a lot of resources here to help us. And if the starters keep throwing like they do, they’ll help us, too, so it’s pretty awesome.”

Lyles, a veteran of 12 major league seasons and 319 games, always makes himself available for counseling.

“I don’t think there’s much preparation involved,” he said.

“You can stick to your routines in between outings recovery-wise, but at the end of the day, experience helps with that, and mentally you can get through it the first time, and years later it becomes a little bit easier. But I always tell guys not to overthink it and put yourself in a bad place mentally going forward.”

Lyles said he never hit a wall during his early years in the majors.

“Through the minor leagues I would get to the innings limit that they wanted me coming up. I was fortunate to not have some injury-plagued seasons, so I pitched from start to finish. That probably helped me when I was younger.”

The Orioles will bring in more youth next season with other prospects on the cusp of promotions. The current group should find it a little easier navigate it.

“I think it’s great, honestly, for going forward, these guys understanding what it takes and how long you have to play,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “Some of these guys are going through that for the first time and going through these experiences for the first time.”

Baker retired all three batters he faced Saturday night, tossed 1 2/3 scoreless and hitless innings yesterday, and he hasn’t allowed a run in his last seven appearances. The only two runs he’s surrendered this month in 11 1/3 innings came from his old team.

“I think there’s going to be days when you feel like you’re throwing under water a little bit, everything’s in slow motion,” said Baker, who’s walked three batters and struck out 10 this month. “I feel good overall, especially for the workload that’s been put upon us this year. I think we all handled it pretty well for the most part.

“I think we’ll finish strong here and hopefully everyone does it with good health.”

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