Félix Bautista’s comeback bid after injuring the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow is finished. The Orioles right-handed reliever will undergo Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, costing him the 2023 postseason and likely all of 2024, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said Saturday.
Tommy John surgery was an inevitable result for Bautista, Elias said. Had there been two months remaining in the season, Bautista might have been able to return for the postseason in some form. But Elias admitted it was a “pipe dream” for Bautista to return in 2023, and now he’s unlikely to appear until spring training 2025.
Elias said Bautista will undergo the procedure within the first two weeks of October with Dr. Keith Meister in Dallas. The timeline to get Bautista ready to pitch major league innings would have taken too long, Elias said, for Bautista to be a factor this postseason.
”That was kind of the long-term conclusion as soon as we got our arms around the injury and got the imaging and the various medical opinions,” Elias said. “That said, everybody involved — and of course to Félix’s credit, bless his heart — realized there might be a window to keep his arm throwing and up and running, but we just ran out of time for this to be a feasible and successful option for the postseason.”
Bautista broke onto the scene last year as the closer following Baltimore’s trade of Jorge López at the deadline. In 2023, Bautista racked up 33 saves this season with a 1.48 ERA, earning his first All-Star appearance.
Without Bautista, the Orioles will continue with a matchup-based approach for the ninth inning. Right-hander Yennier Cano has closed the bulk of the games without Bautista, but left-handers DL Hall and Cionel Pérez are also options, along with right-hander Tyler Wells.
“It’s a lot different when you have the best closer in the game, on the top of his game. You kind of build your bullpen around that,” Elias said. “We don’t have that anymore. What we do have is a lot of really talented pitchers and some guys that are equipped to be starting pitchers that because of the playoff format will be in our bullpen.”
Those starters-turned-relievers could be Jack Flaherty and Kyle Gibson, depending on how the Orioles set up their postseason rotation.
Bautista suffered a partial tear of his UCL in August. He wasn’t officially shut down from throwing activities and even completed a 25-pitch, one-batter simulated game on the field at Camden Yards. But now Bautista will have his throwing elbow operated on and the recovery will be a lengthy process.
Hyde credited Bautista for continuing to throw with his injured elbow.
“I just give the guy a ton of credit for doing everything he could to pitch in the postseason, wanting to be with his teammates and pitch and be a part of it,” Hyde said. “He has busted his butt since the night he got hurt to just have the chance to. We love the guy. Just showed you what kind of unbelievable teammate he is, to do this really for his teammates, to try to contribute in the postseason. Unfortunately, can’t happen.”
The Orioles also agreed to terms with Bautista through 2025, Elias said, ensuring he doesn’t have to undergo contract discussions while recovering. The contract carries Bautista through the first year of arbitration.
“We’re going to miss the hell out of the guy,” Elias said.
Still, Bautista will remain with the team during the playoffs, barring his trip to Dallas for surgery. Bautista was a central figure in the clubhouse celebrations for Baltimore’s playoff berth and American League East championship, and for good reason.
“He deserves it,” Hyde said. “He’s a huge reason why we’re celebrating.”