Surprise! Dylan Bundy is going to start Sunday's Orioles game against the Rays. The Orioles made that announcement on Friday morning.
Don't be expecting Bundy to rip off seven dazzling innings in his first MLB start, though. The signal is there that this will likely be a planned bullpen-heavy game, just one with Bundy getting the first crack at the innings for as long as they're willing to let him go.
How far that might be into the game is a bit of an open question. The most pitches that Bundy has thrown in any of his appearances this season is 57, and he's only thrown 50+ pitches in three out of his 22 games. Not that anyone should ever expect a complete game from an Orioles starting pitcher, but it is probably not even a theoretical possibility in this instance. Even thinking about a 75 pitch limit might be too aggressive.
Is this even a good idea? That's also a great question! Many of us likely bring our own biases into considering the question. Yet in all likelihood, Bundy and the Orioles have way, way more information at their disposal to come to this decision.
That doesn't guarantee they have made the right decision, or even that it will work if they have made a correct and reasonable decision. Still, despite the struggles of the starting rotation to date, this is not a move made entirely out of desperation. The Orioles signaled late in spring training that once Bundy gets up to around 40 innings pitched on the year, they could look to switch him over to the rotation.
Bundy has now thrown 38 innings to date. One might even look at his usage so far this season and find the hints of a pre-arranged plan to get him to shake off the rust in early, low-leverage, short stints before getting multi-inning stints spaced out more on starter's rest. It may not be a coincidence that Bundy hit that mark right before the All-Star break. I figured this move would happen right around or after the trading deadline, so they surprised me by a couple of weeks.
Another big question that will be answered later is what kind of innings limit, if any, Bundy is working with overall for the season. He just hasn't gotten a ton of work in any one calendar year since joining the pro ranks due to his various injuries. Do the Orioles plan to push him to the end of the season and possibly into the postseason? Do they plan to shut him down in September, using these starts more as a springboard to build up his load before next season?
At this point, pitchers who've made every start are at 18 or 19 starts, like Chris Tillman is. So for the most part there's probably 14 potential starts remaining. If Bundy averaged even 5 innings per start, that would add another 70 innings to his total, putting him over 100 innings for the year. He hasn't done that since 2012.
The injury problems in particular are the biggest risk. The one thing that everyone agrees on about arm problems is that the biggest risk factor of future arm problems is having had arm problems in the past. That's always going to be an elephant in the room with Bundy, but it would have been there no matter when he moved to the rotation and it would have still been there if he stayed in the bullpen too.
What kind of velocity will he be able to hold as a starter? Will that be consistent or will it tail off in later innings? How much adjusting will he have to do, and be able to do, to get through lineups a third time in a game? What will be the status of the much-ballyhooed cutter as he goes about all of these things? These, too, are questions we will be anxiously waiting to have answered, hopefully in ways that are beneficial to Bundy's chances of success as an O's starter.
Whether or not it works is still to be determined. If it does, though, the Orioles starting rotation in the present and near future just got a whole lot more interesting.