SARASOTA, Fla. — Orioles closer Félix Bautista is still targeting opening day 2025 for his return from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery and is recovering well from a follow-up procedure Feb. 9.

The additional surgery — a right elbow debridement and an ulnar nerve transposition — cleaned up scar tissue in the elbow and moved his nerve to free it from being compressed by scar tissue to increase his range of motion.

“It feels really good, thank God,” he said. “Honestly, it really does feel a lot better.”

Right now, four months after Tommy John surgery to repair his partially torn ulnar collateral ligament, he’s restricted to lower body and limited arm exercises. He intends to start throwing in April, six months after the initial procedure.

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He is with the team for spring training but does not know if he’ll stay in Sarasota or travel with the Orioles once the season starts.

Bautista, who injured his elbow at the end of August, remained with the team for the rest of the 2023 season. He initially tried to rehab his elbow — progressing to throwing a bullpen session — before the decision was made to have the surgery Oct. 9, the day before the Orioles’ season ended at the hands of the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series.

“At the time, we still weren’t sure if surgery was absolutely necessary,” Bautista said. “It wasn’t until a second round of testing that we realized it was worse than we thought.”

Bautista was a key part of the Orioles’ success last year with his 1.48 ERA and 33 saves.

“It was difficult. At the end of the day, it was something that I couldn’t control,” he said of having to end his season early. “I tried to give the best emotional support that I could and be there for them in any way I could.”

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The team went to closer by committee in his absence, relying on Yennier Cano, Danny Coulombe and Tyler Wells to wrap up games. Craig Kimbrel — signed in December to a one-year deal plus an option for 2025 — will start the year as the Orioles’ closer, manager Brandon Hyde said. Wells, with injuries to Kyle Bradish and John Means, will likely start in the rotation. Cano and Coulombe will see high-leverage innings again.

But, even though the Orioles have a plan, a season without Bautista is still a daunting thought for Hyde.

“He’s a huge part of our success the last couple of years, won us a lot of games last year,” Hyde said. “I am pleased with how our guys responded once he got hurt last year and how guys stepped up into different roles. I had no idea what was going to happen. I think our guys really rallied around each other and rallied around him to win games. He’s a big loss — other guys need to step up.”

Danielle Allentuck covers the Orioles for The Baltimore Banner. She previously reported on the Rockies for the Denver Gazette and general sports assignments for The New York Times as part of its fellowship program. A Maryland native, Danielle grew up in Montgomery County and graduated from Ithaca College.

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