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Orioles place closer Félix Bautista on 15-day IL with elbow injury, recall top pitching prospect DL Hall from Triple-A

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DL Hall was seen as the Orioles’ most likely addition when rosters expand in September.

The club’s top pitching prospect has regained his form — and his velocity — after switching to a relief role in Triple-A earlier this month.

Under normal circumstances, Hall joining the Orioles a week earlier than expected would be a cause for jubilation. Not Saturday.

Baltimore has a spot in its bullpen for Hall after it placed closer Félix Bautista on the 15-day injured list with a an injury of “some degree” to the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow that he suffered in the ninth inning of Friday night’s comeback win over the Colorado Rockies, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said Saturday. There is no timetable for Bautista’s return.

One strike away from his 34th save of the season, Bautista fell off to the first base side of the mound after firing a 102.3 mph fastball. After he regained his balance, he squeezed his right hand multiple times and was tended to by head athletic trainer Brian Ebel and other members of the Orioles’ staff before exiting the game. Manager Brandon Hyde said after the game, which Danny Coulombe ended by throwing one pitch for a strikeout, that Bautista was dealing with right arm discomfort and was being evaluated.

“When the best closer in the game leaves the game, that’s never a good feeling,” Hyde said.

It’s unclear how long Bautista will be out, but his absence leaves a 6-foot-8, 285-pound hole in the back of Baltimore’s bullpen — and an unfillable one at that.

Bautista’s value to the Orioles has been so apparent this season that he’s earned buzz about being considered for the Cy Young Award — an honor a reliever hasn’t achieved since Eric Gagné in 2003. Orioles lefty Zack Britton finished fourth in America League Cy Young voting after his historic 2016 season.

Hyde has often said this year that Bautista’s dominance late in games is the biggest difference between the rebuild Orioles and the post-rebuild club that has the best record in the AL at 80-48 — on pace to win 101 games. The fifth-year skipper has brought in his dominant closer for several multi-inning saves, including in extra-inning games on the road when Bautista several times pitched a scoreless ninth to send the game to extras and then stranded the automatic runner in the 10th to slam the door.

“He’s on my ballot,” Hyde said in July. “The box is checked on my ballot. What he’s doing is different than anybody else in the game right now. The multi-inning save situation, how dominating he’s been. The situations I’m putting him in are not easy. The way he’s come through more times than not in dominating fashion, just having a great year.”

Bautista, an All-Star in his second big league season, isn’t just perhaps the best reliever in the sport, but one of the Orioles’ most valuable players. His 3.1 wins above replacement on Baseball-Reference ranks fourth on the team behind Gunnar Henderson, Kyle Bradish and Adley Rutschman. The 28-year-old is 8-2 with a 1.48 ERA and a whopping 46.4% strikeout rate. With 110 strikeouts in 61 innings, Bautista is 12 punchouts away from the Orioles reliever record of 122 set by B.J. Ryan in 2004.

“He’s been electric for us,” starting pitcher Cole Irvin said after Friday’s game. “I know the fans love him. You want one of your best guys to still be pitching for you. Hopefully it’s nothing negative and he just needs a little bit of time, but don’t know what’s going to happen, don’t know what to expect.

“He’s been huge for us. Honestly, he’d have my Cy Young vote. He’s been that good.”

Despite the odyssey, Hall’s up-and-down 2023 campaign has led him to a spot in Baltimore’s pitching staff. After a slow start to spring training because of a back injury he dealt with during the offseason, Hall began the year as a starter in Triple-A. His results were good, but because he wasn’t able to have a normal offseason in the weight room, his velocity was depressed. The club sent him to its complex in Sarasota, Florida, to focus on strength training and throw less in hopes of gaining that lost velocity back.

That strategy worked, as Hall has been throwing between 96-98 mph since he rejoined Triple-A Norfolk as a reliever earlier this month. In his past six appearances, the left-hander has struck out 18 batters in 7 2/3 innings for a 60% strikeout rate.

Hall can’t replace Bautista, but his addition to the bullpen could be a boost in the middle innings and against left-handed batters. Yennier Cano will presumably slide into the closer role, while Coulombe, Shintaro Fujinami and Jacob Webb could serve as setup men.

This story will be updated.

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