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Breaking “Félix Bautista signs a three-year, $19 million contract.

Major League Baseball teams usually emphasize breaking pitches in the development of their hurlers. A good curveball or slider can really give a pitcher a much-needed competitive advantage.

Others throw excellent changeups or splitters. There is also room for the new “turbo-sinker” stars. Having said all this, there is still not a more important pitch than the fastball.

If a pitcher has a dominant fastball with elite velocity, command, and the so-called “rise” (it’s actually perceived rise), he will have the ultimate weapon to consistently miss bats and retire batters. This is the case of Baltimore Orioles closer Felix Bautista, a true four-seamer artist from Santo Domingo of the Dominican Republic.

It’s hard to believe that Bautista was a free agent after being released by the Miami Marlins in 2015 before signing a minor-league deal with the Orioles. But Bautista finally broke out in Year 1 of his MLB career in 2022 when he posted a phenomenal 2.19 ERA with a 2.85 FIP in 65.2 innings pitched. He struck out 88 hitters against just 23 walks and cemented his place among the most dominant relievers in MLB.

This year, however, he has graduated from elite relief pitcher to Cy Young candidate. Yes, that’s right: The numbers say he has a case to be strongly considered for the award. He was the AL Reliever of the Month for July and one of four Orioles All-Stars along with Adley Rutschman, Austin Hays and setup man Yennier Cano.

Between 2022-23, the guy trimmed an entire run off his FIP in a single season. He has a whopping 108 punchouts in 57.1 frames in 2023 for an MLB-best 47.8 strikeout rate among those with at least 50 innings.

The right-hander has a fantastic 1.57 ERA with a 1.85 FIP and has only given up more than one earned run in an outing once in 52 appearances. His ERA was actually below 1.00 as recently as Aug. 8 (0.85), but Kyle Tucker of the Houston Astros hit a grand slam off him and it went up to the mid-1.00s.

It’s never easy when a star player gets injured and the Baltimore Orioles were dealt that dose of reality when their star closer, Felix Bautista, went down with an elbow injury.

The 28-year-old was putting together one of the best relief performances in MLB history when his season abruptly ended.

He was 8-2 with a 1.48 ERA across 61 innings pitched and 110 strikeouts.

That was good enough to earn him American League Reliever of the Year honors, despite him last pitching in August due to his injury that required Tommy John surgery to repair.

The Orioles now will have to operate without their star for the entire upcoming season.

Craig Kimbrel was signed this offseason to lessen that burden, but there’s no doubt when Bautista gets back into the mix, this team becomes that much more difficult to face.

So, when might Baltimore get back their elite closer?

He spoke with reporters to update how his rehab is going.

“The recovery is going well. Just trying to stay focused and do everything I can to get back on the field at 100%,” Bautista said via an interpreter according to Jake Rill of MLB.com.

That’s a good sign, but he’s still expected to miss all of 2024.

However, he could be back in the mix for the start of the 2025 season.

“That return to the mound won’t occur in 2024, as Bautista is expected to miss the entire campaign while rehabbing. With the right-hander expected back in time for Spring Training 2025, Bautista and the Orioles got together on a two-year extension upon the announcement of his surgery back in September,” Nick Deeds of MLB Trade Rumors writes.

As long as the recovery continues to go well, then Bautista should have no issues being ready for the start of 2025.

This would be huge for the Orioles and it seems like they’re confident in that happening since they gave him the contract extension.

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