SARASOTA, Fla. — Félix Bautista stands firm behind the mound, watching as Wandisson Charles throws a bullpen session.

“He reminds me of me,” Bautista says.

The similarities are there. Both are flamethrowers from the Dominican Republic, and both spent more time in the minors than they cared to — Bautista eight years, Charles seven (and counting). Bautista debuted in 2022 after finally finding his command, quickly cementing his spot as the Orioles’ closer. Now he is trying to help Charles do something similar.

After Charles finishes his session, Bautista wanders over, fingers tinkering. He holds up his hands, showing Charles how he grips his sinker and explaining to him how he controls it. Charles has adopted the new method, alternating between the old grip and the new grip during Grapefruit League action.

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“That’s one of his nastiest pitches,” Charles says. “For him to be able to show that for me was great.”

Bautista won’t be on the field this season after Tommy John surgery in October. But he’s at camp every day, adamant about supporting his teammates. Just as they did for him last year, after that fateful night in August when the trajectory of his career changed with a single pitch.

Felix Bautista walks to the clubhouse after being injured on a pitch against the Colorado Rockies in August. (Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

The meeting

They gathered around the clubhouse on Aug. 26, hours before they would take the field for Game 2 of their three-game series against the Rockies. They knew what it was about; they all watched the night before as “the Mountain” pointed at his elbow and exited the game one out shy of getting the save. No one, not even Bautista, understood the gravity of what had happened at first.

That Saturday afternoon, after Bautista spent his morning getting an MRI, manager Brandon Hyde held a team meeting, something the Orioles don’t typically do for an injury update. But this was about Bautista, their All-Star closer and a beloved part of their organization.

Bautista, and his teammates, were distraught.

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“I was sad about it all,” setup man Yennier Cano said. “Not just because he’s a close friend of mine, but knowing how difficult an arm injury can be for any athlete, it just kind of hits you in that moment. I don’t even have the words to explain what it was like.”

Hyde gave the players a moment to express their feelings. But the team was in a playoff race, and he didn’t want to let this moment derail the season. He told them to rally around Bautista, not only to step up in his absence but to be there for their teammate as well.

“It was just a really nice moment for my teammates to give me their support and to encourage me to get through that moment right then and there,” Bautista said. “It really gave me in that moment what I needed to get through it.”

There was still a chance, however slim, that Bautista could make it back for the playoffs. It was a difficult path, but no harm would come from trying. Bautista’s teammates knew, if this was going to happen, they would need to make sure Bautista didn’t wallow.

They were there with him every step of the way. They cheered him on in Anaheim, as he played light catch two weeks after the injury. And in Boston and Baltimore too, as he played with more intensity and threw off the mound, the teammates lining the railing of the dugout to show their support.

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“It was a matter of us thinking to ourselves, ‘Let’s not forget that this completely happened.’ Because it’s hard to forget that it could be a big injury, but it’s important that we stay motivated and continue uplifting each other,” Cano said.

Soon, what they had all feared came to fruition. Bautista needed Tommy John surgery and would not be available for the playoffs. He watched the first two games against the Texas Rangers in Baltimore, then traveled with the Orioles to Dallas. Bautista had the surgery Oct. 9, the off day before Game 3 of the American League Division Series.

The next day, Bautista was in the clubhouse, arm wrapped, and slightly woozy from the procedure. But he knew they needed his support, just as he needed theirs.

Felix Bautista has spent part of his spring training working with relief pitcher Wandisson Charles, seen here during a Grapefruit League game Feb. 25. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Lending a hand

Cano walked into the clubhouse on the first day of spring training and frowned. His best friend wasn’t there, and he started to worry that something had happened.

Someone informed Cano that Bautista was at a doctor’s appointment in Texas and would be there soon. Relief poured over Cano when he finally saw Bautista a few days later.

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“It’s just great having him around,” Cano said. “Everything he brings to this team and the way he gives advice, especially the new guys who have come in and maybe been here for the first time, it’s been great.”

Bautista’s primary focus, of course, is his rehab. He is six months post-operation and should start throwing soon, although a date hasn’t been set. He has been undergoing treatment on his elbow, running and doing strength training. Bautista can now add arm exercises into his workouts.

That, though, takes up only so much time. So, after he completes his daily work, he heads to the bullpen. He’s taken a special interest in Ronald Guzmán, a first baseman by trade now trying to make it as a pitcher, and Charles.

Charles was reassigned to minor league camp Wednesday, but the Orioles like the progress he made this camp, thanks in part to the help from Bautista.

“It took Bautista a little while to harness that command; hopefully, Charles can do something similar,” Hyde said. “Bautista figured it out a bit later; guys’ calendars are all different. When guys figure it out is never the same. It took Bautista a little bit longer; maybe it’ll be the same for Charles.”

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Bautista doesn’t know where he’ll spend the season — it could be in Sarasota, or he could travel with the Orioles. Either way, he wants to stay connected, to keep helping as much as he can until he can take the field with them again.

“I’m definitely enjoying this right now,” Bautista said. “It has been a lot of fun just giving them my support.”

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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