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Félix Bautista headed to IL with UCL injury, severity unknown; DL Hall recalled by Orioles

It is looking like it will be what we were all fearing

Colorado Rockies v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

When Félix Bautista left last night’s game, Orioles fans had to hope against hope that the “arm discomfort” reported after the game would not turn out to be some kind of injury involving his elbow or the ulnar collateral ligament or anything. When Mike Elias addressed Orioles reporters ahead of Saturday’s game against the Rockies, the bad news we were fearing was confirmed: Elias said it’s “some degree of injury” to the UCL for Bautista.

The exact severity of the injury is not yet determined. He said that it’s early in the process and there is no timetable for the injury. What’s clear is that the injury is the kind that sends Bautista to the injured list immediately. DL Hall has been recalled from Norfolk to fill the roster spot for Bautista.

It seemed like Hall would be back with the Orioles when the roster expands by one spot for a pitcher on September 1 at the latest, so to see him return a few days before that in response to Bautista suffering whatever the injury turns out to be is not a big surprise.

Among all of the candidates already on the O’s 40-man roster, Hall’s the only one who, in terms of pure velocity and potential for large numbers of strikeouts, might be able to approach what Bautista was able to do as the highest-leverage reliever.

That’s not to say it is guaranteed this will happen. We’ve seen Hall’s flaws on display in his big league outings over the last couple of seasons, and in his minor league stat lines for years before that. If the Orioles plug him into the late-inning hold a lead mix in any way - whether it’s the seventh inning or the ninth - we’ll all be holding our breath any time he comes in, at least unless he can demonstrate over several good outings that there’s something different happening with him.

For now, what there is to hang your hat on is this: In six appearances in relief for Norfolk since returning from whatever they had him doing in Sarasota, he’s struck out 18 of the 30 batters that he faced, with hits allowed to just three of them. He has allowed runs in only one of these six outings. Hall being Hall, he’s still walked four in this time, but this can be managed if everything else works out. Bautista’s phenomenal 2023 outcomes have also come with a walk rate over 10% - he’s walked 26 of 237 batters faced.

This is not what anybody wanted to be thinking about on Bautista’s bobblehead giveaway day. It is the hand that the Orioles have been dealt. They have overcome adversity in getting to an 80-48 record up to this point and if they are going to push on and win the AL East, or at least a home wild card series, they will have to overcome Bautista’s absence as well.

It’s a tough blow. Using the Wins Probability Added stat, which benefits players who are performing well in high-leverage situations, Bautista is the best AL reliever, by far, generating 4.2 WPA over the season. His well-deserved All-Star season has seen him strike out nearly 50% of all batters faced. His 1.48 ERA across 61 innings is the kind of elite performance that doesn’t come around every year.

If nothing else, having Hall in the stable of choices to try to replace Bautista, or step into the shoes of whoever replaces Bautista for the ninth inning situations, is something that has a higher ceiling than if the O’s response were to recall Bryan Baker, Mike Baumann, or Logan Gillaspie. This will not be worth much if Hall can’t start living up to his potential for the rest of the season, but for those who want cling to hope, there is something to cling to for now.