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O's pitchers hitting a wall as first half closes

BALTIMORE - Before Sunday's game against Cleveland, Orioles manager Buck Showalter was asked if the club has considered promoting 19-year-old Dylan Bundy should the team's collective pitching problems continue.

It's come to this.

July has just begun, and questions are already forming about whether the Orioles, at 42-36 and still in second place in the AL East, need to bolster their pitching staff by promoting a teenager that hasn't yet pitched in Class-AA.

But Showalter's answer Sunday morning was somewhat revealing.

"What makes you think I haven't already asked about him?" Showalter said with a smile.

He may have been only half-joking given the Orioles' pitching woes of late.

In the last week, their starters have pitched to an 0-5 record with a combined 11.42 ERA (33 earned runs in 26 innings). The team entered Monday night's game at Seattle with nine losses in the last 12 games, which had them six games behind the first-place Yankees in the AL East.

And the lack of pitching success has forced the club into a flurry of transactions and moves.

Dana Eveland, usually the Birds' long relief man, made a spot start last Saturday with poor results. Eveland allowed five earned runs in 3 1-3 innings and Cleveland won 11-5. Tommy Hunter (3-4, 6.11 ERA) was sent to Norfolk following Saturday's game in which he surrendered eight hits and five runs in 1 2-3 relief innings.

Brian Matusz lost his last five starts (with an 8.44 ERA) before being demoted to Class-AAA Norfolk after Sunday's loss to the Indians. Baltimore promoted Steve Johnson from the Tides to take Matusz's spot on the big-league roster. Johnson, 24, was 3-5 with a 2.73 ERA in 14 games with Norfolk.

Chris Tillman and Zach Britton are possible call-ups for later in the week to fill vacancies in the rotation.

But could Orioles fans see Bundy, the team's top prospect as ranked by Baseball America, at some point this season?

"The possibility is in place, but it's something that I think we're a long way from," Showalter said Sunday morning. "I've learned through the years to leave the player development to the player development people."

Showalter said Brian Graham, the organization's coordinator of minor league instruction, and Rick Peterson, director of pitching development, have been influential in helping Bundy progress. Bundy is 4-2 with a 3.14 ERA in six games with Class-A Frederick this season.

Showalter said there's no bigger jump in minor-league baseball than the one from the South Atlantic League, which is low-A ball, to the Carolina League and high-A competition.

"He's getting challenged to throw some secondary pitches, to shorten up his times to the plate, to do some things with baserunners that he hasn't had to do," Showalter said. "So far, so good."

Unlike the Orioles' pitchers these days.

Expect to see more moves made throughout the week, when the team leaves Seattle and heads to Los Angeles for a four-game series.

Bundy likely won't be making a big-league appearance in the near future, but Showalter said he's well aware of the youngster's progress and talents.

"If you do the mathematics of where we're taking his innings, compared to last year, it leaves that buffer if we so choose and if he is still worthy," Showalter said. "We can go a lot of different directions with that. I talked to Brian and those guys a lot and they're real happy with where he is."

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