BALTIMORE — As reporters arrived at Camden Yards on Tuesday afternoon, the sight of injured Orioles closer Felix Bautista in uniform and warming up in right field generated buzz hours before the series opener with Washington.
Just over a month to the day that the right-hander sustained an injury to the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, Bautista threw a simulated game in the latest step to determine whether he can potentially return to pitch for Baltimore in the postseason. The 28-year-old began playing catch again earlier this month and completed a few bullpen sessions over the last couple weeks before finally getting on the mound at Camden Yards.
Manager Brandon Hyde said Bautista looked “fine” over 25 pitches, emphasizing that the real key will be how the All-Star reliever feels on Wednesday. While admitting how “it was great to see him out there” on the mound, Hyde said he’s unsure what the next step would it be for Bautista.
With the Orioles entering Tuesday holding a magic number of three to clinch the AL East championship and the No. 1 seed, the AL division series is scheduled to begin on Oct. 7.
“Really, we’re running out of time a little bit. He’s going to need to get on the mound more often,” Hyde said. “He’s thrown a couple bullpens. This was kind of his first time experimenting against a hitter [while] on the mound. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow and then kind of just make decisions on a daily basis.”
Even if Bautista’s elbow continues to respond favorably to throwing with greater intensity, the thought of him being able to pitch in the playoffs with a partially torn UCL still feels more like wishful thinking than a reasonable outcome. And that’s not even considering how effective he would be in such a competitive environment in which he’s never pitched.
Still, Bautista has made it this far in his throwing progression with Tuesday marking a potential inflection point.
“He’s felt OK, but there’s an injury in there,” Hyde said. “It’s about how he can recover [after throwing].”