The lengthy recovery period for Félix Bautista still stretches months into the future, leaving the Orioles’ closer sidelined for all of the 2024 season, but the right-hander will continue that healing process with the benefit of a major acknowledgement from 2023.

Bautista earned the American League Reliever of the Year award, Major League Baseball announced Wednesday, making him the first Baltimore reliever to earn the honor since Zack Britton in 2016.

Bautista was the unanimous choice by the panel of voters. Devin Williams of the Milwaukee Brewers earned the National League honor.

Before Bautista required season-ending Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery in October, he had compiled one of the best seasons of any relief pitcher. The 28-year-old pitched to a 1.48 ERA with 33 saves in 61 innings before he suffered a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in August.

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Bautista appeared in his first All-Star Game, part of a strong Orioles contingent in Seattle that featured right-hander Yennier Cano, catcher Adley Rutschman and outfielder Austin Hays. The path to that All-Star appearance was long. Bautista spent 10 years in the minor leagues, then broke through with Baltimore in 2022.

Once there, his mind-boggling splitter and 100-mph-or-faster fastball turned Bautista into a lock-down late-inning reliever.

Bautista earned the closer role midway through a 2022 season in which he established himself as one of the league’s premier arms. He improved in 2023, raising his ERA+, a measure that marks 100 as league average, to 280. According to FanGraphs, Bautista’s 2.8 wins above replacement were tied for the highest of any reliever in the majors. His 110 strikeouts were the most of any qualified reliever, his 1.48 ERA was fourth best, and his 0.92 WHIP ranked fifth.

Bautista isn’t expected to return to the mound until spring training 2025. Until then, his absence will surely be felt in the back end of Baltimore’s bullpen. The award he received Wednesday only underscored Bautista’s importance to the team.

andy.kostka@thebaltimorebanner.com

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville. 

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