ANAHEIM, Calif. — Only a month earlier, Jacob Webb was in the home bullpen here at Angel Stadium, playing for the club he grew up rooting for as a kid in Riverside, California. The life of a bullpen arm can shift rapidly, though, so Webb returned Monday to a ballpark he knew well — yet wore different colors.
He walked into the visiting clubhouse. He trekked to the visiting bullpen. And when he took the mound in the seventh inning of Monday’s win against the Los Angeles Angels, he did so wearing an Orioles uniform.
Webb promptly retired the side in order, giving Los Angeles a glimpse of what they had just let go.
“There was some good energy warming up,” Webb said. “It’s great to get out there and great to shove it up ‘em.”
The other edge of the coin, though, was seen Tuesday as the Orioles used seven relievers. With closer Félix Bautista likely out for the season and right-hander Yennier Cano on the shelf after pitching in consecutive days, manager Brandon Hyde called on Webb again. The Angels broke through in an eventual Orioles victory in 10 innings, a sign that Webb isn’t completely unhittable.
He’s nearly been that, though, since joining Baltimore.
“Our bullpen, we’re going to have nights where we’re not perfect,” Hyde said. “We’ve been so good all year.”
As the season reaches a conclusion, the unexpected addition of a pitcher such as Webb could be what’s required in the puzzle that is covering for the loss that is Bautista. Even if there’s the occasional breakthrough.
There’s no one pitcher who will fill Bautista’s shadow. But given Webb’s postseason experience, having pitched for the Atlanta Braves in 2020 and 2021, the 30-year-old brings something that most other pitchers on the roster don’t have.
“It’s obviously very tough that we don’t have Bautista right now, but everybody steps up and does our job,” Shintaro Fujinami said through interpreter Issei Kamada. Fujinami, who recorded Tuesday’s save, is one of the other midseason additions who will help fill in for Bautista.
The Angels designated Webb for assignment Aug. 5, he passed through waivers unclaimed by 28 teams until the Orioles gave him a chance, and Webb arrived at just the right time for Hyde — a fresh arm when so much of the bullpen was beleaguered.
In the month since joining Baltimore, Webb has allowed three runs in 13 innings, and while his command for Los Angeles was shaky (he walked three in his final appearance and averaged 5.7 walks per nine innings) Webb has found the strike zone in his 15 games for Baltimore. With it, he has quickly vaulted into a high-leverage role for the best team in the American League.
The changes aren’t revolutionary. They start with attacking hitters to get ahead in the count and continue to the recent success of his change-up, a pitch he didn’t feel as comfortable using late in his time with the Angels. It continues with the increased confidence that comes from a series of good results. And it has prolonged into a month of excellence, in which Webb boasts a 1.46 ERA, because of the trust he feels in return from his new club.
All of that together has unlocked Webb’s late-season resurgence.
“It was sad leaving my hometown,” Webb said. “But I’m ready for the opportunity wherever it calls, and this is where I’m enjoying myself right now, enjoying the opportunity.”
Webb has proved capable in Baltimore of facing hitters on either side of the plate, largely because his sweeper to righties and change-up to lefties have improved. In July, his change-up usage dropped to a season-low 13.2%, and batters posted a .500 slugging percentage against the offering.
In August and September, though, Webb’s change-up usage rose to 25.1%. Trey Cabbage, with his RBI single in the eighth, became the first batter in that span to record a hit against the change-up.
“He’s been absolutely excellent,” Hyde said. “Really comfortable with him now, also. Glad I haven’t had to use him too much lately, because I was overusing him the first two weeks he was here, just out of necessity. Plus, he wanted the ball. But now he’s a little more fresh.”
In the immediate aftermath of Webb’s departure, he drove to his father’s house nearby. He relaxed, played golf with friends, and threw enough to keep his arm fresh for whatever opportunity might come next.
It took until the 29th team in the waiver order to claim Webb, but the lack of a claim elsewhere worked out in his favor. Webb went from golfing to pitching for the best team in the American League, and this week, he returned to Angel Stadium with a point to prove.
He proved it Monday before a Tuesday stumble. Still, Webb could be a critical late-season addition to a bullpen covering for a major absence.
“Regardless of who passed on me or not, I’m here now,” Webb said. “It’s awesome being on a first-place team, a really good team. And I look forward to getting back to the playoffs. That’s the ultimate goal.”