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Bundy’s niche in the Orioles’ bullpen is just where he needs to be

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Do the Orioles want to upgrade their starting staff? Yes. Would Dylan Bundy provide said upgrade? Probably. Should Bundy start? Definitely not...yet.

Baltimore Orioles v Seattle Mariners Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

A single journey into the depths of #OriolesTwitter is not for the faint of heart. It is a place of fervorous ire. A black hole of despair. A magnet of negative energy. Though, despite the masses insinuating the world is ready to crash and burn like the latest Independence Day movie, the Orioles are 49-35, 2.5 games above the Blue Jays atop the AL East. Somehow, someway.

That somehow, someway being the Orioles’ starting rotation boasting baseball’s fifth-highest staff ERA of 5.12. The bottom four teams? The Twins, Reds, Rockies and Athletics, all of which combine for a team winning percentage of .399. The Orioles’ .583 win percentage doesn’t exactly fit in, but the O’s are basically MLB’s version of Steven Glansberg. They’re kind of weird, eating dessert in lonesome oblivion.

It’s a rough life we live.

Perhaps the current hot topic issue splitting the Orioles’ Twittersphere down the middle is not only the super bad state of Buck Showalter’s starting five, but the hypotheticals to fix it. I am a very big fan of Sonny Gray, but the only black and orange in his future is a Netflix binge of Piper Chapman. Drew Pomeranz, Rich Hill, Jeremy Hellickson, Jorge De La Rosa and Ervin Santana appear to be floating around the trading block as well, but what is there REALLY be found?

A proposition deemed preposterous only months ago, Dylan Bundy finds his name being lobbied as possible substance to help glue the Orioles’ rotation back to an acceptable level of mediocrity. I get it, sure. Bundy’s shown he can mix both a four-seam and two-seam fastball with a maturing changeup and an underrated curveball in what’s really been his first three-plus months of major league action. He’s a young guy with a smooth delivery and a fourth-overall pick kind of arm who, right now, is probably the Orioles’ third best starter without ever having started a major league game.

Again, who would have thought the guy who made the big league roster as a contract casualty rather than having “earned” his way onto the team would suddenly be so desired? The sentiment is great, but the logic is flawed.

“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.” -Buck Showalter

The common misconception that a player can simply transition from the bullpen to starting every five days seems to be a process lost among the common viewer. I have not had the chance to read Jeff Passan’s The Arm, a book dedicated to—I think— further understanding the causes of Tommy John surgery, but in my travels through the game of baseball, I’ve learned that the arm is to be treated like any muscle in the human body.

Throwing a baseball is an unnatural act. It doesn’t make sense, and arms can react to such a repetitive motion by withering away. Though, if treated properly, it can be built to a point of sustainable strength. Bundy, who didn’t throw a competitive pitch for two years (!!!) between 2012-14, is still undergoing the rebuilding, and meticulously continued development of arm strength. MASN’s Steve Melewski noted that the Orioles were hoping Bundy would end the year with around 75 innings pitched, a goal with a bit of wiggle room out of the bullpen.

Perspectively, before the start of the 2016, Bundy had totaled only 170.2 professional innings. If he does manage to pitch exactly 75 innings this season, such a landmark would make up 30.5% of his entire professional career. Already at 38.0 innings this season, Bundy threw only 24 innings a year ago. That arm of his is still mending back to full strength, and evidently, he’s shown it on the field.

You see those rising lines? That’s increased velocity month-by-month so far this season. In April, Bundy’s average 94.3 MPH four-seamer jumped to a June average of exactly 96.0 MPH. A nearly two mile per hour uptick on all his pitches not only hints at how explosive his arm is, but a sign of progressing fluidity.

As for the Orioles sad state of affairs minus Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman, it is what it is.

Yovani Gallardo has been somewhat better since coming back from the disabled list, going five or six innings giving up two or three runs, which is pretty much all he has to be the rest of the year. Tyler Wilson in all likelihood will get another start this Friday against the Angels, and like Gallardo, he’s been slightly average more often than he’s been bad. As for the Mike Wright’s and Ubaldo Jimenez’s in this sad universe, it’s hard to imagine Dan Duquette allows the last spot in the rotation to be held by the latter two more much longer, barring the unforeseen. As our fearless Mark Brown has said before, the Orioles are probably going to trade for a pitcher we don’t really like for a prospect we probably do like, but you can’t blame it on Bundy.

It isn’t Bundy’s fault that Tommy John surgery set him back two long years, remembered more as a ghost than a guy doesn’t turn 24 until November. It isn’t Bundy’s fault that Duquette traded the likes of Zach Davies, Steven Brault and Josh Hader, or let go of Miguel Gonzalez, some of whom could have impacted the Orioles at some point this season. It isn’t Bundy’s fault Duquette’s commitment to Ubaldo Jimenez has forced the organization into a five-run deficit once a week. It certainly isn’t Bundy’s fault the Orioles are probably going to trade a prospect you want to keep for a pitcher, you know, you don’t want.

Despite a few transactional wrongdoings, the O’s have done well to guide Bundy as gently as possible, and it’s benefited for both parties. For example, yesterday’s ballgame may have been Bundy’s most impressive major league outing.

Going 2.1 innings, all outs via the strikeout, Bundy flashed the upper-90’s fastball that’s become routine, even working around three hits and two walks. The most endearing aspect of his relief was the confidence to throw the changeup down in the count, even in 3-2 counts. My personal favorite...

Like Bundy, the changeup has been a work in progress, and like it’s master, continually gaining steam.

The Orioles could surely use an arm such as Bundy’s to plug the backend of the rotational hole, but Bundy looks mighty fine where he is. He’s essentially captured the role of T.J. McFarland, providing the kind of intimidating relief to help alleviate the pain of short starts.

Still learning, still rehabbing, Bundy appears much more the part now than he ever has before. We’re probably still fighting the reality that a young Oriole pitcher may actually end up being good, an idea even harder to grasp knowing he’s actually taken to what his coaches have preached. Why ruin that?

What was that thing Sam Hinkie said...trust the process?