Bautista, Pérez bridge path to statement shutout

August 6th, 2022

BALTIMORE -- The Orioles’ trade of Jorge López sent reverberations around their clubhouse for two reasons. The first is that it subtracted one of their largest leaders, and his winding career path that earned admiration from every corner of the organization. The second is that it left a competing team without its All-Star closer, shifting around a bullpen that, while staunch to date, was facing its largest hurdle to surmount yet.

But the O’s felt comfortable making such a move because of the arms they had waiting in the wings, a ragtag collection already rebuilt on the fly. Friday was their biggest test to date.

Baltimore's redone back-end bullpen setup combined with starter Dean Kremer for their 10th shutout of the season in the 1-0 win over the Pirates at Camden Yards, seeing Félix Bautista running with the closer role while joining forces with Cionel Pérez. It marked the Orioles' fourth straight win.

Both have found rampant success this season -- Bautista with a 1.77 ERA and Pérez at 1.15 -- but now will be tested in different manners, with Bautista now the de facto closer and Pérez going to be asked to sit down more right-handed batters than in the past. Same goes across the remainder of the ’pen.

“They're going to have to get both sides of the plate out now a little bit more,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “ … All those types of guys are going to have to step it up a little bit and take on a little bit bigger roles than they've taken on.”

Friday night was as much a continuation of the good vibes the Orioles have found for themselves even after losing López and Trey Mancini at the Trade Deadline. The club is 4-0 since it traded Mancini on Monday, unlikely heroes mostly leading the way. Friday’s win -- Baltimore’s 55th of the season, the most in Hyde’s tenure -- secured itself as the best of the rebuild era. It bested the 54 wins the ’19 club amassed, the most for the franchise since 2017.

Resiliency has been a large portion of the team's success, with the bullpen acting as a poster child for such tenacity this season. Their makeup suits them, a group mostly made up of waiver claims or others with winding paths that has become amongst the best in the Majors, their 3.04 ERA ranking third.

Even the departure of López -- as well as Cole Sulser and Tanner Scott on the eve of the regular season -- has done little to shake their confidence.

“The mentality stays the same. Nothing changes,” Pérez said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “We got to go out there and perform and help the team win and just do the best we can.”

The Orioles also felt comfortable shipping out López because they felt they could follow a similar blueprint with someone else. López was, after all, a struggling starter for years before finding dominance as a closer, partly thanks to the club’s help in reconfiguring his arsenal. Bautista, a 26-year-old rookie, is already excelling as a project.

Bautista said that being given the opportunity to close games would be “a dream come true.” After he recorded his first career save -- two, in fact, while López was on the bereavement list in May -- he received an authenticated, signed copy of the game’s scorecard.

He may have more coming his way. On Friday, he became just the second pitcher in the Majors this season to throw at least 17 pitches north of 100 mph in a relief outing.

And it helps who Pérez and Bautista pitched behind on Friday, as Kremer’s 6 1/3 scoreless innings set the tone on the heels of a 6.94 ERA in July. From parts of the second through seventh inning, Kremer had retired 14 consecutive Pirates, showing some of the elite makeup he displayed when first activated off the injured list this season.

“That was his best outing of the year,” Hyde said.

Kremer has been a major beneficiary of the bullpen's success this season, with the team now 7-4 in his starts this season while he holds a 4-3 record. He saw what it looked like in 2021, when Baltimore's ’pen owned the worst ERA in the Majors, and how it has morphed into one of the league's best as of late.

“They've got a little bit of everything. Anything you can think of, they got it,” Kremer said. “Except we don't have any submarine guys. That's about it."