Félix Bautista used to dream of being a closer. Now that he’s here, the Orioles right-hander isn’t settling. – The Denver Post


Before Félix Bautista began playing organized baseball, as a little kid in the Dominican Republic, he’d watch the fanfare that would follow a closer entering a game and dream.

He’d dream that one day, that fanfare would be for him as he entered with a game on the line. Those introductions were a large part of why Bautista picked up a baseball and decided to pitch. They led him on a path that featured a major setback, a late development and ultimately, the kind of introduction he’d long envisioned.

By the end of Bautista’s 2022 season with the Orioles, the rookie right-handed closer would take the field with floodlights flashing and Omar’s whistle from the HBO show “The Wire” playing. He was a relatively unknown commodity last year, beginning with High-A Aberdeen, but concluded his first season in the major leagues as a closer with a dominant splitter, a triple-digit fastball and 15 saves.

Bautista is doing what he always dreamt of doing, even before his potential took the form of 100-plus mph heaters and made him one of baseball’s top up-and-coming high-leverage arms.

“Whenever I saw closers coming in, and I was watching baseball as a kid, I wanted to be like them one day,” Bautista said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “Looking back, at the time it was something unreasonable to think about, something crazy.

“But now that I’m able to live it, and go out there and have my own entrance, and go out there and pitch that way, it’s something really special. And I take a lot of pride in that.”

Bautista’s journey to Baltimore wasn’t linear. He began in the Miami Marlins’ organization, but he was released as a teenager and spent the next year out of professional baseball. When he was released, “my dream and my vision was a bit tarnished and a bit murky after that,” he said.

But when Bautista joined the Orioles, his power on the mound eventually coincided with more control. His walk rate of 29% in 2019 dropped to 15% in 2021, and in 65 2/3 innings in the big leagues this season, Bautista walked just 9% of the batters he faced.

With that improved command came lofty strikeout numbers, as he punched out 34.8% of batters with a 2.19 ERA. Bautista’s four-seam fastball (-14) and splitter (-6) each ranked in the top 15 in the majors in run value, a measurement of a pitch’s impact on how many runs an opponent scores based on the situations it’s used, with lower being better for pitchers.

“Just so happy with the season he’s had and him going forward,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “What a great story. Great story for us, great story for him.”

Before the season began, though, Bautista didn’t know whether this would be possible.

He entered spring training with one goal: To make the opening day roster. Once he achieved that, he accomplished his remaining two goals for the year as well, proving to Hyde he could handle high-leverage situations before assuming the closer responsibility after Jorge López was traded to the Minnesota Twins at the Aug. 2 deadline.

Bautista’s season was cut a few days short as he dealt with left knee discomfort after he landed awkwardly in the penultimate series of the year. He was placed on the 15-day injured list, but Bautista said there’s no long-term concern about his knee. Out of playoff contention, the Orioles opted to give their flame-throwing closer extra time to rest, ensuring he is healthy to train this offseason.

Shortly after the season concluded this month, Bautista boarded a plane to return to the Dominican Republic. It’s where this dream began, watching closers on television and envisioning his own special introduction one day.

Bautista achieved that, with the flashing lights and Omar’s whistle part of a breakout campaign. But that was just a taste of what Bautista hopes is on the horizon.

“It’s highly motivating,” Bautista said. “Now that I have that secured and have that in my back pocket, going into next year I’ll have new goals that I want to reach and new things I want to accomplish. I’ll be really excited going into next season.”



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