There’s no question that, ultimately, Dylan Bundy wants to be a big league starter – and he’s heard the whispers that he could fill a rotation spot in the second half.
As he moves through this season building up his arm endurance, however, he said he doesn’t expect to enter the Orioles’ rotation soon. He doesn’t think it’s practical yet.
“I’m only up to three innings. You’ve got to be able to go five, six, seven as a starter in the big leagues. So I think we can just put it out of the question right now,” Bundy said before the Orioles left for the All Star Break. “But that’s not my decision. That’s up to them and I’m going to keep doing my bullpen role, which is throwing three innings at a time right now.”
One of the most impressive things about the 23-year-old Bundy is how he has been able to weather storms – including two arm injuries – while adhering to the timelines set by the medical staff, even when the baseball rat so badly wanted to pitch. He’s learned patience, not an easy lesson for any of us, especially at 23 and with so much at stake.
So now that Bundy is coming out of the Orioles’ bullpen and not starting games — like the former first-rounder had done exclusively as a pro — he’s not complaining.
Instead, Bundy is doing the opposite. He thinks how the Orioles and manager Buck Showalter have handled him this year has made sense. He hasn’t thrown more than 57 pitches; he hasn’t gone more than three innings and, recently, he is getting four to five days’ rest before he pitches. Consequently, he has compiled a 3.08 ERA in 38 innings over 22 games this year.
“It’s usually been at least three, usually four or five days (of rest),” Bundy said. “I’m fine with it. I can throw more, but that’s not in the plans right now. We’re sticking to the plan, and I like that.”
Is his health finally to the point where he has no worries whenever he picks up a ball?
“Buck asked me that at the beginning of the year and he asked me that, I don’t know, a week or two ago. ‘You don’t even think about your arm, do you?’” Bundy recalled. “No, I don’t, because it is fine. I am recovering well. If I’m getting sore, it’s in the right places. If I’m not, it’s because I’m getting the strength back. Right now, I’m about as happy as I can be with my arm.”
He then quickly knocked on the wood of his locker while flashing a big smile.
“I don’t take no chances anymore,” said Bundy, the fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft who, in 2013, was considered by Baseball America as the second best prospect in baseball.
This is basically Bundy’s first full season since 2012, when he made his pro debut. He threw more innings that year (103 1/3, not including instructional league and playoffs) than he has since (101 1/3). He had elbow (Tommy John surgery) in 2013. He had a calcification in his right shoulder/back area that cost him a huge chunk of 2015. He was shut down during the most recent Arizona Fall League because of arm soreness.
It’s why the Orioles had a plan to ease him back this year, and have been sticking to it.
In his last outing, he threw 56 pitches, faced 12 batters in 2 1/3 scoreless innings and recorded all seven outs for strikeouts. His reaction looking back on that appearance?
“Two and a third innings and 56 pitches ain’t very good. But it got the job done. I’m fortunate with that,” said Bundy, who can’t be sent to the minors without passing through waivers. “My pitch count getting up there is a good thing, kind of, because it builds my arm strength back. So the more pitches I throw, I consider that I’m getting more strength in my arm. So I’m happy with it.”
He says he believes his arm strength has returned – he’s now hitting 98 mph with his fastball again. But he doesn’t think he has the endurance he needs right now to go deep into games. Not yet.
“Pitch-count wise, (it’s not ideal), but arm-strength-wise, it’s getting back. If you go out there and ask me to throw 80 pitches, yeah, I’m going to be fatigued after about 60,” he said. “Because I haven’t done it in a while. Arm-strength, though, I’m up to three innings. I feel like I’m all there at three innings. And maybe I can go a little more than three sometime to help the team.”
The big question is how soon will that be? There have been whispers that it will be sooner than later this year. There certainly is a need. The Orioles currently have only three starters in the rotation to begin the second half, assuming Ubaldo Jimenez is in the bullpen. There’s no scheduled starter for Sunday or Tuesday right now (though Tyler Wilson likely will be recalled at some point to fill a spot).
Bundy understands the challenges facing the rotation. And he is flattered that his name is a hot topic.
But he said no one has told him that the plan for him has changed. And though he won’t reveal specifics, there was an innings-cap discussed at the beginning of the season for him. If he goes into the rotation, that total will theoretically be reached more quickly. And that means a postseason appearance for him could be in jeopardy if the Orioles don’t continue with kid gloves. The flip side, of course, is do the Orioles get to the postseason with this current rotation? Maybe adding him to it is the missing ingredient.
It’s a complicated issue. Because, yes, Bundy wants to start. But he also wants to be in a position to keep pitching for the Orioles for a long time.
I asked him point blank if he would be OK if didn’t start one game in 2016. His answer:
“Yeah, obviously, but it’s whatever. Whatever best situation fits the team is what I’m happy with. I don’t need to make starts this year,” he said. “We already have a plan that didn’t involve any starts and I’m fine with that. We’ll see how we get there. But it’s not up to me.”