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The elephant in the room with Dylan Bundy’s success - his innings

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Dylan Bundy hasn’t gone less than six innings in a game yet this year, and his innings are racking up. At some point, how many is too many?

Baltimore Orioles v Kansas City Royals Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images

In case you missed it, Dylan Bundy was masterful again on Tuesday night against the Twins. Unfortunately, he got tagged for the loss but the Orioles will take two earned runs over seven innings every time, particularly the seven innings. With the Orioles’ starters struggling to pitch deep into games, Bundy has been the exception.

Orioles fans were high on Bundy going into this season, and he’s still managed to outperform even the most optimistic of expectations. The addition of his slider/cutter/slutter back into his repertoire has only made him even more dangerous. His ERA of 2.92 is tied for eleventh in the AL, and his WAR sits fourth in the league among pitchers. Most importantly for the context of this article, his 64.2 IP puts him in a tie for third in the AL in total innings pitched.

Following his Tommy John surgery in 2013, Bundy only pitched a combined 65 innings in the minors between 2014 and 2015 before throwing 109 innings for the O’s last season. It was a major jump up in innings pitched for Bundy in 2016, but he is about to shatter that increase this year. In 2017, Bundy is on pace to throw well over 225 innings. For context, David Price led the AL last year with 230. It’s a lot.

Bundy’s innings total seems to be an elephant in the room around the O’s, especially when Bundy has been far and away the team’s best starter to this point. Heck, the 24-year-old has been the most valuable player on the Orioles to this point. No one wants to remind the fans that the only guy in the O’s shaky rotation that gives them complete confidence, may at some point have to pitch less frequently.

What if we let him go and see what happens?

There is always the option that the Orioles continue to give Dylan the ball every five games and deal with the ramifications later. While young arms are protected more than ever these days, particularly after the kinds of injuries that Bundy has had to battle through, it’s possible the Orioles look at this as all a bonus and simply let it ride.

It sounds crazy, but at this point, the Orioles front office has made no indications that an innings limit exists at all. Back in February, reports came from the Orioles saying that Bundy was not expected to be limited. It would be easy to brush those reports off now that he is on pace to contend for the AL lead in innings pitched, but even in the last two weeks, Buck had this to say:

“This stuff about innings and pitch counts, there is nothing to back it up. I’ve talked to Dr. (James) Andrews, I’ve talked to all of them.”

That sounds like a vote of confidence from the manager; but as a fan, I’m hoping that’s Showalter playing his cards close to the vest. Injuries are part of the game and often dumb luck, but if Bundy is sitting around 200 innings on the year and exits a September start with soreness, let’s just say it would be smart to avoid 105.7 for maybe a decade plus. With the Orioles’ search for an ace now over 15 years running, I don’t see anything wrong with erring on the side of caution.

How can they limit his innings?

There are two real options when it comes to potentially limiting Bundy’s innings. The first would be to shut him down entirely once he reaches whatever innings cap the team decides, maybe somewhere around 190. The Walgreens professional team 30 miles south made this famous in 2012 when they sat Stephen Strasburg for the rest of the year following his September 8th outing, including the playoffs. He later went on to watch his team get knocked out in the NLDS with less than stellar pitching.

Many Nationals players were upset about Strasburg’s exclusion from their post-season roster, and there are definitely former Orioles fans out there that may never get over the Nationals’ decision to shut him down.

As hard as it is to be optimistic about the Orioles right now, they do sit just a game and a half back in the AL East. With the playoffs on the table and the inside of the Orioles’ trophy case getting dustier by the year, I don’t think many fans in Baltimore would want to see their best starter sit out the post-season.

The second option for limiting Bundy’s innings would be to tinker with the rotation around the All-Star break and scheduled off days in an effort to allow Bundy to skip a few starts and have some extra days of rest whenever possible.

Between the All-Star break, the two days off in August and three more in September, it’s possible the Orioles could skip maybe 4 of Bundy’s starts. That alone could get him down around 200 innings for the regular season. It would be a good start, but still a drastic increase over his 109 last year.

In order to limit Bundy’s innings any further, the O’s will need someone to step up as an option as a spot starter. Hopefully the offseason additions of Ynoa and Verrett can perform well the rest of the season and give the Orioles front office the confidence to throw them out there in August and September instead of Tyler Wilson or Mike Wright.

In a perfect world, Bundy has a few starts skipped in the second half of the season and his replacements help pitch the Orioles into the post-season for the fourth time in the last six years. Then, still sitting with fewer than 200 innings on the year, Bundy is unleashed for the postseason and at that point, all bets are off. Unfortunately, being an Orioles fan is rarely perfect.

So where do you stand? Do you think they should ride Bundy the rest of the way and see what happens? Would you like to see him shut down to protect his arm somewhere before 200 innings? Perhaps you’re so pessimistic that the idea of a successful, homegrown ace on the Orioles is guaranteed to blow up in the team’s face well before Bundy’s innings ever become an issue. Pop into the comments and let us know.