SARASOTA, Fla. — Between a four-seam fastball that touches — and often passes — triple digits in velocity and a splitter that ranks among the best in the league, few batters found success against Orioles right-hander Félix Bautista last season.
Even so, Bautista has been wondering: Was he tipping pitches? Could he be even better this year if he can hide what’s coming?
In the clubhouse last Tuesday morning, Bautista displayed the subtle differences in his delivery, the minute variations that can disclose too much, too soon. At this level, any sort of tell is a potential weakness, giving the batter a significant advantage.
The difference between the delivery for his fastball and his splitter is only an inch or two of glove movement. But that’s enough, so Bautista is searching for a fix.
Bautista always holds the ball inside his glove near his belt when he first stands on the pitching rubber. For a fastball, as his left leg rises, his glove also rises. But when Bautista throws a splitter or a slider, his glove remains at or near his belt while his leg rises, and for the astute hitter, that minor difference is enough to know whether to gear up for a 100-mph pitch or prepare for an offering at least 10 mph slower.
There’s more video on Bautista now for batters to study, given his breakout rookie year in which he recorded a 2.19 ERA with 15 saves. So Bautista is focused on finding a way to disguise his pitches: raising his glove along with his leg for each pitch, diminishing the perceivable discrepancies.
In his outing Monday, his first attempt at the alteration didn’t go smoothly. Bautista walked three batters and managed only two outs. But he knows the changes to his delivery are necessary, even if somewhat uncomfortable at first.
“I know that during the season, it’ll end up benefiting me,” Bautista said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “Hitters know there are little things that they can find that can give them an advantage, so anything that I can do to take that away from them and help me out, I think I want to keep working on.”
The Orioles pitching coaches first discovered the tell between his fastball and splitter, although Bautista can’t recall when that happened. All Bautista knows is he’s trying to find more consistency in his delivery.
In his outing Thursday, Bautista appeared to correct the issue. He had thrown just eight of his 24 pitches Monday for strikes, but Thursday against the Detroit Tigers, Bautista peppered the zone.
The 27-year-old struck out three batters and gave up a double that just snuck by the glove of diving third baseman Gunnar Henderson.
“It’s been going really good, honestly,” Bautista said. “Just continuing to work hard at it, and understanding that whether the results are good or bad, just continuing to trust the process and try to do a good job every time I go out there.”
Bautista’s spring training got off to a late start, and he didn’t appear in his first game until March 14 because he spent the offseason in rehab mode, taking care of a knee he sprained and the right shoulder that fatigued late in the 2022 campaign. But the Dominican Republic native is on track to make the opening day roster, barring any setbacks.
That the timing of Bautista’s adjustment runs into the final week of spring training is interesting, giving him something to think about beyond just throwing strikes. But if Thursday was any indication, Bautista is on the right path to dispelling any tell between his fastball and splitter.
“You try to give it your best with the things you’re trying to work on,” Bautista said. “And if it doesn’t work out, you try to go out there and continue to make it work as best as possible.”