The Orioles got Mountain Time on their way to a victory on Friday over the Rockies, but this did not happen without a concerning development for closer Félix Bautista. One strike away from collecting his 34th save, Bautista tossed a pitch high and wide of the strike zone and landed awkwardly. The trainer and manager came out, conversed with Bautista, and he left without ever throwing any warm-up tosses.
You could only hold your breath, both for the fate of Friday’s game without Bautista - Danny Coulombe finished that off on one pitch - and for the fate of Bautista. Everyone’s immediate fear had to be that it would be something arm-related, and unfortunately for all of us, that worst fear was realized after the game. Manager Brandon Hyde told Orioles reporters that Bautista exited due to “arm discomfort” and that he is going to be further evaluated.
This is quite obviously a potential seismic impact for the team’s fortunes. Winning their 80th game and getting back to a three-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays is something of a pyrrhic victory if Bautista has a serious arm-related injury. Now that we know it’s about his arm - and that it was bad enough right away that they didn’t even do any warm-up tosses - the next natural worry is that the only remedy for what’s wrong is Tommy John surgery.
Maybe Bautista and the Orioles will be more fortunate than this, but even if it’s a more minor situation than that, anything that would require an injured list stay would be tough. A big part of why the O’s are where they are is because Bautista has been as elite as he’s been, with his 0.928 WHIP, his 16.3 K/9, his 1.48 ERA, and so on.
With 3.0 bWAR, Bautista’s been the fourth-most valuable player on this team to date. Replacing him for any length of time is asking a lot. We will find out tomorrow whether that replacement ends up being immediate, or whether Bautista’s issue gives at least the illusion of such mildness that the O’s can hold off on rushing a roster move, since it’s not like Bautista was going to pitch on Saturday - his bobblehead night - after he’d pitched Thursday and Friday anyway.
DL Hall may have just become the next contestant on the Price is Right earlier than any of us were expecting. We will see what the morrow brings. I don’t feel very good about the prospect of going through September and beyond without Bautista looming at the very back of the Orioles bullpen.