The Dylan Bundy Dilemma: He'd fill a short-term need, but could that jeopardize his future health? -
Dan Connolly

The Dylan Bundy Dilemma: He’d fill a short-term need, but could that jeopardize his future health?

Orioles right-hander Dylan Bundy faced 12 batters in relief Wednesday in the Orioles’ 14-inning road victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

He allowed three hits and two walks in 2 1/3 scoreless innings. He struck out seven. Do the math. Every out he recorded was via strikeout.

For the season, the 23-year-old former first-rounder is 2-1 with a 3.08 ERA in 38 innings through 22 relief appearances. He’s allowed 46 hits, 12 walks and fanned 32 batters.

Perhaps the most important number from Wednesday’s game is 56. That’s how many pitches he threw. In his last four outings, Bundy has thrown 46, 57, 36 and 56. In that span, he has logged 11 innings, allowed one unearned run and struck out 16 batters while walking three.

Also, look at the spacing of his outings since June began. He pitched June 4, was off four days and pitched June 9, off five days and pitched June 15, another four days off and pitched June 20, five days off and pitched June 26, three days off and pitched June 30 and had five more days of rest before his overpowering performance Thursday.

It’s an incredibly small sample size, but so far his big league numbers are better when he has four days off (.154 opponents average) and six days off (.143 opponents’ average) than in any other scenario.

He’s a starter. He knows he’s a starter. You know he is a starter. The Orioles know he is a starter. They’ve discussed internally the idea of moving him from the bullpen and will continue to weigh the pros and cons – that’s their jobs.

In a perfect world, Bundy would have begun this year in Double-A Bowie’s rotation, moved to Triple-A by mid-May and be hankering for a call-up now.

But because he signed a major-league deal as a draft pick, and because most of his last three seasons were spent on the disabled list, he is out of minor-league options. Therefore, the Orioles have to keep him on their 25-man roster or expose him to waivers.

Their only choice in April was to put him in the bullpen, and monitor his innings and health there.

There was never a real intent to have him start this year – or at least not for more than a couple games at the end of the season.

But that mindset was back when the Orioles had other starting pitching alternatives, or thought they did. And that was when no one knew exactly how Bundy would respond to pitching in the majors.

He is responding well. And he is healthy and productive. And he is now three years removed from elbow (Tommy John) surgery, which should be well out of the danger zone.

But he’s barely a year removed from being shut down with a calcification in his shoulder/back area that cost him most of 2015. He also was limited in the Arizona Fall League due to arm soreness. So it’s pretty obvious that the Orioles need to be careful with what arguably is the best arm in their organization.

And they have been careful – he hasn’t yet pitched 40 innings in half a season this year. They’ve been doing this right, picking his spots, giving him rest.

But that’s where the rub comes in. Because his innings total obviously will increase if he enters the rotation. And, really, no one knows how he’ll respond physically. Consider that he threw 103 1/3 innings at age 19 in his first season as a pro in 2012. And then consider that he has thrown 101 1/3 innings since – in a span of three-and-a-half seasons.

You could call him rested and ready. Or inexperienced and vulnerable.

The Orioles do not want to mortgage his – and their – future by putting him into the rotation if it means they could lose him to a long-term injury. And the conservative approach would be keeping him in the bullpen all or most of this season.

But then there is the devil on the other shoulder. Bundy clearly has more of an upside than any current starting candidate besides Kevin Gausman. The Orioles are in first place and must improve their shaky rotation to stay there. And they don’t have enough in movable prospects to bring in a top of the rotation starter via trade this month.

The Orioles so far have eschewed the notion of moving him from the bullpen because there is a need in the rotation. And even if they do it now, they certainly won’t point to the need, since that would give the impression the club is looking short-term and not long-term.

No, if the Orioles move Bundy, they’ll say it’s because he is ready, physically and otherwise. And the problem – the true dilemma surrounding Dylan Bundy – is there’s no way of knowing if that is true until you try it.




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