We’re in the midst of a new week in a new year with the same old questions hovering around the Orioles. Dogging them like a pack of Dobermans.
How will executive vice president Dan Duquette fill out the rotation with three spots open and the club showing no inclination to spend the necessary amount to land an ace-like arm?
Which left-handed hitters will be obtained, whether via trade or free agency, in an attempt to provide a little more balance to the lineup?
Which left-handed reliever will join the organization as the possible complement to Richard Bleier?
Who’s the utility infielder on a team that’s at least toying with the idea of carrying only three reserves?
Which veteran catcher will compete with Chance Sisco and Austin Wynns, with the assumption that Caleb Joseph definitely breaks camp with the team and gets most of the starts in the early portion of the season?
Will Manny Machado be traded, stay at third base or move to shortstop?
The utility infielder may seem unimportant on the surface, but every team needs one. It’s a necessity on every roster. And the ability to also play the outfield grows in importance by leaps and bounds with a shorter bench.
Sisco isn’t guaranteed a spot on the opening day roster, and how he competes in camp will be one of the more interesting storylines. His left-handed bat would be a nice fit, but he needs to prove trustworthy behind the plate. The Orioles are encouraged by the strides he’s made over the past few years.
Improving the rotation trumps everything else in importance. It also would seem to apply even more pressure to Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, who must take the necessary steps forward as the two returnees penciled at the front end.
“I don’t like to really think of it as pressure because last season was last season,” Bundy said on the most recent edition of the “Orioles Hot Stove Show” on 105.7 The Fan. “It’s over now, so me and Gausy are looking forward to going into next season and building on last year and doing better than we did last year. We obviously need to pick it up and that’s what we plan on doing.
“My main goal is to be a full-time starter and at the top of the rotation, and that means getting 32, 33-plus starts a year and hopefully getting over 200 innings and doing that for multiple years. And that’s kind of what I’m looking forward to doing next season, getting over 30 starts and getting my innings up there. I just want to go out there every five days and give my team the best chance.”
Bundy registered 19 quality starts last season to lead the Orioles. Justin Verlander and Chris Sale led the majors with 23.
“That’s a huge stat, getting as many quality starts as you can,” Bundy said. “That usually means you’re keeping your team in the game for the best possibility of getting a win. That’s your main goal is to get six, seven, eight innings as long as you can in each and every game and keeping your team in the game to get a win. That’s what the starter’s job is to do, is to give your team the best possible chance of winning.”
Bundy is cranking up his throwing program now that he’s moved past the holidays.
“I’ve been running and lifting now for about two or three weeks and getting back in shape,” he said. “But as soon as I got home, the first two months were strictly hunting. That was it. Taking care of my property and trying to get on some deer.
“I got my two deer this year. Now I’m trying to get my brother to get a deer. That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing, hunting and spending time in the outdoors with my family.”
Spring training should be a little more relaxing with Bundy no longer inundated with questions about his health and an innings limit. Elbow surgery and restrictions are in the past. The Orioles can turn him loose. He can expect fewer reporters around his locker each day with the same story angles.
“All right, that sounds good,” he said with a laugh. “Yeah, the injury questions, the innings limit, the slider/cutter, I’m glad those are behind me now.”
Well, maybe not the latter one. Bundy’s no longer prevented from throwing the pitch, but what exactly are we supposed to call it? He doesn’t really have a preference as long as it’s effective.
“Not just the slider. I’d rather have control of all my secondary pitches a little bit more than last season,” he said.
“As a starting pitcher or any pitcher, you’re always working on stuff, and for me that’s all my pitches, really. And if one of them takes a leap forward, then that’s awesome. But the slider’s a great pitch to righties and lefties and teams know that I use it now, so I’m going to have to be able to spot up when I need to, and also bounce it when I need to.”
Bundy will continue to work with pitching coach Roger McDowell, who returns despite feeling the summer heat while the rotation was posting the highest ERA in club history at 5.70. McDowell didn’t receive universal support within the organization, but he had enough of it from some strong voices.
“I’m not real big on comparing people, but I worked well with him,” Bundy said. “He was easy to talk to and he has a lot of knowledge. Obviously, he’s been in the game a long time and he’s helped me out and I’m looking forward to working with him again for a second season.”