SARASOTA—Orioles closer Félix Bautista didn’t pitch in his first Grapefruit League game until Tuesday when he threw 15 pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates, retiring all three batters he faced. Bautista was held back because of shoulder and knee injuries.
On Friday, Bautista needed just nine pitches to take care of the three Minnesota Twins he faced.
“I feel really confident with how things have been going,” Bautista said through a translator. “I’ve been trying to focus heavily on attacking hitters and working on my secondary pitches to make them more effective and I feel like things have been going really well, and I feel really confident.”
Manager Brandon Hyde was happy with how Bautista threw.
“Great outing yesterday,” Hyde said before Saturday’s game against Boston in Fort Myers. “Feels great today. Just talked to our training staff. Responded extremely well from yesterday’s game so love where he is right now.”
Bautista, who became the closer last August when the Orioles traded Jorge López to Minnesota on August 2nd, had a great run. He reeled off 12 consecutive saves before he blew one on September 24th.
“I feel like I’m starting to get back into the rhythm, little-by-little,” Bautista said. “I feel like I’m slowly but surely working my way up to being at that same level like I was during the season.”
Bautista ended last season with a 4-3 record and a 2.19 ERA and 15 saves in 17 chances and regularly hit 100 miles per hour. On Friday, one of his pitches hit 100.
“I do feel like I am capable of hitting that level,” Bautista said. “It’s not my main objective right now, but I know if I really had to, I could dial it up. I’m capable of reaching that … Right now my main objective is just attacking hitters once again, focusing on making sure my arm feels good and it’s ready to go. I know if I need to I can dial it up.”
Bautista’s final appearance of the season came on September 30th when he pitched a scoreless eighth at Yankee Stadium and was shut down because of left knee discomfort.
With just nine more days of Grapefruit League play remaining, Bautista won’t have many more opportunities to get ready. He could pitch again on Monday against Philadelphia in Clearwater.
“Ideally three or four more outings,” Hyde said. “We’re mapping that out right now, but at least three, hopefully four.”
Bautista is near where he needs to be.
“Right now, I feel really good, but it’s not my decision to make anymore. It’s someone else’s decision to make, but so far I feel really good with how everything is going and we’ll see what happens,” Bautista said.
Bautista pitched the fifth inning on Friday. In the ninth inning, dressed in street clothes, he saw some Orioles fans at Hammond Stadium calling for his autograph. He walked into the stands and eagerly began signing.
“That was good. It wasn’t my intention to go out there and sign,” he said. “I was actually going out with one of my friends, but they came up to me and so I just decided to do it.”
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB