Are the Orioles considering adjusting the plan for Dylan Bundy?

You may have noticed that the Orioles rotation ranks near the bottom of the American League right now, while the team has a 51-36 record to rank at the top of the AL East. But in the second half, the rotation will need to pitch better and the Orioles will need to find pitchers that can do that.

That brings us to Dylan Bundy. The organization, fans and even Bundy himself have waited a long time to see the 23-year-old right-hander both healthy and showing the promise he showed on the farm in 2012. That was before his Tommy John surgery in June 2013 and before a rare shoulder issue that limited him last year. But now Bundy is healthy and pitching like the top draft pick that he was.

dylan-bundy-white.jpgOver his last six games and 14 1/3 innings, he has allowed 11 hits and one unearned run with four walks and 19 strikeouts. A week ago at Dodger Stadium, he pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings and all seven outs he recorded came on strikeouts.

Will Bundy provide help for the Orioles rotation in the second half? O’s executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette addressed the topic on my radio show Sunday on 105.7 FM the Fan in Baltimore.

“That’s a possibility,” Duquette said. “We signed him to be a starting pitcher and we have been training him and grooming him to come back as a starter. When the time is right for that, I’m sure the organization will do the right thing. He looked terrific in Los Angeles. He overpowered a very competitive Dodgers lineup with a terrific fastball.”

Now comes the dilemma. Bundy pitched just 63 1/3 total innings from 2013 to 2015. On June 10 in Toronto, manager Buck Showalter said this of Bundy: “We are hopefully going to get 60 to 75 innings out of him (this season) and be ready to go next year. The big thing we have to decide is if and when about adding his slider/cutter back. That may be next spring.

“With Dylan, I’m not going to start pitching him back-to-back. Keep our priorities in mind with him. Not going to put him in harm’s way. Can’t get our heart ahead of our brain. Can’t think of anything worse than him not getting through the year physically (healthy). We are not going to take that chance.

“He’s handled it well. He’s been a part of the solution. He’s getting better. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that next spring, you’re going to like what you see. If we get through this year on the current plan.”

Here is another question: Are the Orioles now pondering an adjustment to that current plan? Bundy is now at 38 innings, about halfway to that 75-inning number. Making seven or eight starts of five innings each would get him there well before the season ends. The math for Bundy in the rotation doesn’t add up, not to mention the potential injury risk factor when the Orioles have come so far to get him to this point.

On the radio show, I asked Duquette if the Orioles are considering going past that innings limit for Bundy.

“We’ve been careful in terms of managing his workload and that is something we’ll keep a close eye on,” he said. “This pitching is a very delicate thing, but I’m very encouraged how Dylan has looked. I’m inclined to let him pitch if he’s pitching well and he wants to pitch.”

So does mean the club would exceed the planned innings limit?

“I’m going to tell you something: I have been very careful with pitchers only to see them get hurt. I have been more aggressive with some and seen them pitch well,” Duquette said. “So this is not an exact science where you say you can only do this or that. There are some guidelines you can follow, but pitching is a very delicate thing and we’ll see where it goes. Very encouraged by how he has done so far.”

That is yet another issue here in that there is no right or wrong answer as to how many innings is too many for Bundy. There is no number that will guarantee his healthy status for years to come, nor there is a number at which point the risk becomes too great. As I said, the O’s face a dilemma here.

Before he left on his All-Star break, I asked Bundy how he would feel about extending his innings limit for this year.

“I haven’t heard about pushing past 80 or anything like that yet,” he said. “Haven’t really been addressed about it lately. I’m sure, come mid- to late August, we’ll talk about it again, but right now I’m happy with going with 75-80. I don’t really know yet. Maybe when we get further along in the innings, to 65 or so, you can ask that again. But right now I don’t really know.”

Bundy also said the question about whether he will start for the Orioles has not yet been addressed.

“No, not really. Everyone is wanting to know what is going to happen, but I don’t really know either,” Bundy said. “That is up to them, not up to me. I’ll just keep throwing two to three innings whenever they want me to.”

Bundy is pitching better than he was earlier in the year. He is looking now like the prospect that got all the hype and attention in 2012. He is excited by his progress and improvement.

“Obviously, the velocity has come up about 2 miles per hour and that helps anybody,” he said. “And then being able to throw off-speed pitches in fastball counts has helped me out. Didn’t use to do that as much, I’d just go right to the heater. Then I think my command has gotten better.

“This is the longest I’ve pitched since 2012. It means a lot. Just to be playing the season with the team. The season goes by a whole lot faster when you’re playing and not in Florida. It means a lot being able to throw 38 innings before the All-Star break. We’re right on track.”

For an organization that seems to get constant criticism about its ability to develop young pitchers, Bundy could prove to be one example of a success story. It’s way too soon to pass judgement on that yet. But the Orioles’ efforts to rehab and develop this young man are bearing fruit right now.

For the Orioles, the plan for Bundy is working. They brought him along carefully to get him back to pitching at a high level. But now that they have a rotation that threatens to derail a good season, will they be tempted to alter the plan for Bundy?

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